Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the most common cause of visual impairment in people over age 60. Because it affects millions of senior adults, it deserves a great deal of attention. Another common condition also deserving of consideration is dry eye. Dry eye often accompanies AMD, but only because it most commonly affects the same aging demographic. It can compound the already difficult task of living with vision loss, so it should be taken seriously.
According to the National Eye Institute (NEI), dry eye can occur when tear production decreases, tear evaporation increases, or tear composition is imbalanced. The most common symptom is a scratchy sensation or the feeling that something is in the eye. Other symptoms include stinging or burning, episodes of excess tearing that follow periods of dryness, discharge, pain, and redness in the eye. People with dry eye may also feel as if their eyelids are heavy, and they may experience blurred vision.
The NEI lists the following causes, treatments, and preventions of dry eye:
- medications, including antihistamines, decongestants, antidepressants, birth control pills, hormone replacement therapy to relieve symptoms of menopause, and medications for anxiety, Parkinson’s disease, and high blood pressure
- advancing age
- rosacea (an inflammatory skin disease) and blepharitis (an inflammatory eyelid disease)
- autoimmune disorders such as Sjögren’s syndrome, lupus, scleroderma, and rheumatoid arthritis and other disorders such as diabetes, thyroid disorders, and Vitamin A deficiency.
- hormonal changes during pregnancy and after menopause.
- windy, smoky, or dry environments
- seasonal allergies
- insufficient blinking from prolonged periods of screen time
- laser eye surgery
- avoiding medications with dry eye side effects
- over-the-counter (OTC) topical medications: artificial tears, gels, and ointments
- approved prescription dry eye medications: cyclosporine and lifitegrast
- short-term corticosteroid eye drops to reduce eye inflammation
- FDA-approved devices for stimulation of glands and nerves associated with tear production
- surgical insertion of punctual plugs to keep tears from draining from the eye
- thermal punctal cautery to close the drainage ducts (most severe cases)
- cut back on screen time, and take periodic eye breaks
- wear sunglasses that wrap around the face and have side shields that block wind and dry air
- avoid tobacco smoke
In most cases, prevention and treatment of dry eye can be effective. It is one positive step that can be taken to help maintain best vision.