Dry eyes are one of the most commonly reported health concerns on the Prairies. And, although this Summer looks like an anomaly, Alberta actually has some of the driest, Sunniest conditions in Canada. It’s common to see people squinting and rubbing their eyes year-round. Red, inflamed eyes are even more prevalent among those working in industrial settings – like oil rigs – or outdoors. Some days, it almost feels normal to have irritated eyes.
But, unfortunately, dry eyes aren’t normal or healthy to have long-term. Two main factors have culminated to produce the local “dry eye” epidemic. This includes:
- A dry, windy climate with low humidity
- Higher concentrations of environmental allergens (e.g. dust, mold, pollen, etc.)
Many Albertans also have higher rates of exposure to industrial and manufacturing irritants (e.g. workplace particulate/dust), computer screen glare (due to longer daylight hours in the Summer months) as well as higher rates of smoking and drinking. Unfortunately, it all culminates in an epidemic of dry, tired eyes on the Prairies.
Do I have dry eyes?
There are actually many signs and symptoms of dry eye disease, which goes beyond simply feeling like your eyes are dry. These include:
- Dryness & irritation
- Dry, scratchy eyes
- A feeling of dust in your eye
- Burning sensation in the eyes
- Changes in your vision
- Blurry or double vision
- Increased squinting/eye strain
- Increased sensitivity to light
- Changes to the eye
- Watery (teary) eyes
- Mildly red or inflamed eyes
- Feeling like you can’t keep your eyes open (heavy eyelids)
It’s important to see your doctor if any of these symptoms do not improve after trying some self-care strategies. Within Alberta, all medically necessary visits to an Optometrist are covered by provincial health insurance. So if you have dry eyes, professionals can advise how to maintain optimal eye health at no cost to you.
Can having dry eyes cause problems?
In most cases, dry eye disease is best treated with self-care strategies. This includes reducing eye strain (e.g. limiting glare and computer screen time), using lubricating eye drops when needed, and applying gentle heat or massage to the eyes. If these strategies don’t work, your optometrist or physician can prescribe special eye drops or perform certain procedures (e.g. punctal plugging) for severe dry eye symptoms. In all cases, your nurse or doctor should conduct a medication review to determine if any medications might be causing problems. Many different medications – including allergy medications – actually cause dry eye as a common side-effect.
Perhaps the greatest risk of dry eye is an increased risk of eye infections and inflammation. The inside of your eyelids and outer lining of your eye contains a very thin, transparent membrane called the conjunctiva. This film protects your eye from dust, allergens and bacteria. Your conjunctiva keeps your eye moist and lubricates the white of your eye so your eyelids glide easily on its surface. Conjunctivitis – or Pink Eye – is a common complication of dry eye disease.
Severely dry eyes can also damage surface lens of your eye, called the cornea. This can cause permanent visual changes, inflammation that effects your vision or corneal abrasions/ulcers. As the window to your eye, your cornea is critically important for clear vision. Untreated dry eye disease is one of the more common reasons for corneal transplantation.
A note of caution about “red eye” drops…
If you struggle with red eyes, you may be tempted to clear the red from your eyes with redness-relieving eye drops. These eye drops contain more than just eye lubricants, and also work by making the cause blood vessels on the surface of your eye constrict. Although they work quickly, eye experts warn that redness-relieving eye drops also have many side effects.
First, redness-relieving eye drops should not be used for more than 72 hours…. and preferably only when absolutely needed. With long-term use, there is a risk that the pressure inside your eye could increase and other eye structures can be impacted. It should also be noted that your eyes may actually appear more red after the effects of these drops wears off, usually in a few hours.
The ‘Blink 182’ Method
In our experience, many people know exactly how they strained their eyes… and cope with a flare-up of dry eyes afterwards. Most do not want to take medications, or even find that using eye drops was just not feasible in their workplace. The result was coming home after a day’s work staring at a computer screen with even drier eyes.
If you can’t use eye drops at work, what can you do? We developed this insanely simple 2-Step method for the temporary relief of dry eyes:
(1) Rinse with warm water
With your eyes closed, rinse your face with warm water. For better results, you can also soak a cloth in warm water and let it sit over your eyes for 30-60 seconds. This helps your Meibomian glands in your eyelids release an oily film that lubricates your eyes, and also clears potential irritants (e.g. lotions and makeup) from around your eye.
(2) Blink 182 times
Start by blinking slowly (about once every second), and then slowly increase the speed of blinking until you are blinking as fast as feels comfortable for you. Count your blinking at this point, blinking 182 times.
While most people know that blinking will relieve dry eye symptoms, they do not blink nearly enough to restart tear production or the lipid flow from Meibomian glands. The “182” number is arbitrary, but most people see substantial improvement in dry eye symptoms about 15 minutes after conducting at least 150 rapid blinks.
CAUTION: You should not excessively blink if you are wearing contact lenses or have any appliance on or near your eye. This intervention is also not appropriate if you have certain eye diseases, have recently sustained any eye injury or have undergone surgery of the eye or areas around the eye. Please consult a health professional prior to trying this intervention if you have any significant past or current concerns with eye health, or are wearing contact lenses.