Dr Ian Beasley
Optometrist and Head of Education, Association of Optometrists
Dry eye affects one in four people in the UK, and that number is on the rise. In fact, it has been described as a modern global epidemic,1 but there are ways to manage it.
Dry eye — a condition that causes the eye to become dry and irritated — is more common in people over the age of 50. This is because the glands that make tears, which help your eyes to stay lubricated, don’t work as well when we age.
What causes dry eye?
Some general health conditions can also cause dry eye as a side effect, such as autoimmune diseases. Hormonal changes can also be a factor. In the last few years, we’ve seen an increasing number of younger patients presenting with dry eye symptoms — a result of the Covid-19 pandemic where people spent more time on screens — both due to working from home and social isolation.
The glands that make tears, which help your eyes to stay lubricated, don’t work as well when we age.
Know your dry eye symptoms
Some patients come to see an optometrist, and it’s obvious they are struggling with dry eye; but not every case is straightforward. Some patients may experience all, or a few, common symptoms.
Symptoms range from very mild to severe. Some patients will have sore, red eyes. For others, it may impact vision, making it difficult to do daily tasks without a regular regime of eye drops and other treatments to help relieve discomfort. Most patients will have one or more of the following:
- A sandy or gritty feeling or sore eyes
- Uncomfortable and sometimes painful eyes
- An itching or burning sensation
- Short-term blurred vision
- Watery eyes
Where you live and work can have an impact. Dry eye is more common in windy, cold, dry and dusty conditions. Several studies have also highlighted that air pollution is a factor. Air conditioning and central heating also worsen symptoms. It’s important to be aware of your environment and how this may contribute.
Treatment options available
Dry eye tends to be a long-term condition, which requires ongoing treatment. There are many types of drops and gels that can help your eyes feel more comfortable. Look out for an ingredient called sodium hyaluronate, known to be effective. Avoid those that contain preservatives.
It’s important to use the correct type of drops — the wrong drops are unlikely to cause harm, but they won’t help much. If it isn’t working, your optometrist can offer advice and other treatment options.
 Donthineni PR, Shanbhag SS, Basu S. An Evidence-Based Strategic Approach to Prevention and Treatment of Dry Eye Disease, a Modern Global Epidemic. Healthcare (Basel) 2021 9(1):89