Hardly a dry eye in the house

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There are times when you probably don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Of course, given the choice, it would seem that laughter is definitely the best medicine.

Recent scientific studies have confirmed that laughter helps us cope with life. Apparently a good belly laugh or even an occasional chuckle releases chemicals in our body which maintain our sense of well being. Even so, there are times when being teary-eyed may have health benefits.

We all recognise the problems associated with dry skin, but we probably don’t realise that dry eye is also a very common condition and a trigger for many eye complaints such as eye infections and allergy reactions.

Dry eye is sometimes just a natural part of growing older – it is most common in people over the age of 50, particularly in women after menopause. However, our lifestyle, occupation and surroundings can also cause dry eye. Not surprisingly, hot, dry, windy weather makes the eyes dry; but we don’t have to go outside to experience the problem. Air conditioning and heating in offices and homes will lead to dry eye as well, and air pollutants such as cigarette smoke are a significant factor.

Dry Eye Syndrome

Dry eye symptoms can include burning, itching, stinging, soreness, grittiness, sensitivity to light and the feeling that "there is something in the eye".

Tears, which are part of the eye’s natural defence mechanism, are not just water. They are made up of several components that nourish and protect the eyes. So although the eyes become "watery" in association with a dry eye condition, this fluid may not provide sufficient lubrication or nourishment to the surface of the eye.

To avoid the problem, avoid the cause. That’s simple enough, but not always so easy to do. Smoke-filled rooms, late nights, long hours of study or looking at computers or TV screens may be very much part of our lifestyle, and we can’t avoid getting older.

As well, it is interesting to note that some medicines have the potential to cause dry eyes: medicines such as anti-depressants, anti-histamines and sedatives and those used to treat high blood pressure.

If you are not a frequent attendee of sad movies, then you should consider the regular use of eye drops. However, not all eye drops are suitable for treating dry eye; so check with your pharmacist about the most appropriate product. Tear replacement products can be used as often as necessary; and for occasional use, when the eyes are red, moisturising drops with a decongestant are preferred.

Eye drops should be discarded one month after opening to prevent contamination; but if you need drops only now and again, a product such as Refresh, which comes as a box of single-use vials of artificial tears, is the ideal alternative. One vial is used when required and the remainder stored for later use. These drops contain no preservative, so they are also suitable for contact lens wearers.