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Seeking Dry Eye Relief: Could Dry Eye Syndrome Be Genetic?

Did you know that 6.8% of the adults in the United States are seeking dry eye relief? Dry eye is a condition that affect many people, especially those over the age of 75. 

What is Dry Eye? 

Dry eye occurs when a person doesn’t produce enough quality tears to lubricate and nourish the eye. This condition causes the eye to be irritated, gritty, or have a burning sensation frequently. It is most common and chronic among aging adults. 

When we blink, tears get spread across the cornea. These tears help to provide the lubrication needed to reduce the risk of infection to the eye, wash away foreign particles in the eye, and keep the surface of the eyes smooth and clean.

People with dry eye disease do not produce enough tears, or their tears are not of good quality. 

Insufficient Tears: Tears get made by several glands near the eyelids. Tears tend to decrease with age, due to various medical conditions or as a side effect from some medications. Environment conditions, like windy and dry climates, can also impact tear volume. The symptoms of dry eye can develop when the adequate amount of tear production is reduced, or tears evaporate too fast from the eyes.

Tears that are poor quality: Tears are made up of 3 layers: Oil, Water, and Mucus. Each layer protects and nourishes the eye’s front surface. The oil part of the tears helps stop the evaporation of the water part of the tears. The mucus parts help the tears spread evenly across the eye. 

What Are the Causes of Dry Eyes

Dry Eyes can develop due to many causes. Some of these include:

  • Age. Dry eyes are found to be a part of natural aging. Most people over age 65 will experience dry eye symptoms at some point.
  • Gender. It is generally accepted that women are more likely to develop dry eyes. The onset of this is often due to hormonal changes caused by pregnancy, the use of oral contraceptives, and menopause.
  • Medications. Some types of medicines can inhibit tear production. These medications include antihistamines, decongestants, blood pressure medications, and antidepressants.
  • Medical conditions – Some medical conditions also make people susceptible to dry eye symptoms, like rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, and thyroid problems. Inflammation of the eyelids (blepharitis), swelling of the surfaces of the eye, or the inward or outward turning of eyelids can be contributing factors to dry eyes.
  • Climate conditions – Exposure to smoke, wind, and dry climates can create a rise in tear evaporation that results in dry eye symptoms. Failure to blink regularly, like when looking at a computer screen for long periods, can also add to the drying of the eyes.
  • Other contributors – The use of contact lenses for a long time can take part in the development of dry eyes. 

What Are the Common Symptoms of Dry Eye?

The common symptoms of dry eye include a burning sensation in the eyes, itchy eyes, aching sensation, heaviness of the eyes, fatigued eyes, sore eyes, dryness or a dry sensation, photophobia (sensitivity to light), and blurred vision.

Another symptom is the feeling that something is in your eye – this is called foreign body sensation. 

Even though this may sound odd, watery eyes can also be a symptom of dry eye disease. Sometimes the dryness of the eye triggers an overproduction of tears as a self-defense mechanism to protect the eye. However, this doesn’t last very long and will not correct the underlying problem. 

What Tests Are Used to Confirm a Dry Eye Diagnosis?

There are a few tests that doctors use to diagnose dry eyes. 

Schirmer Test – First implemented in 1903 by Schirmer, this test is still one of the most commonly used methods. There are two variations to this test. 

Schirmer I test will measure tear secretions, and this includes reflex and basal tears. The Schirmer uses strips where the length of a wet strip is noted in millimeters after 5 minutes. Typical test results range from 8 mm to 33 mm, but anything over 10 mm is usually accepted.

Schirmer II test, which uses topical anesthesia and only measures reflex tears using stimulation with a cotton tip applicator. A shorter one-minute Schirmer test was found to decrease eye discomfort as well as save time.

Fluorescein sodium stain can be used to identify corneal epithelial defects and can be a useful tool in evaluating dry eye. In this test, the corneal surface will stain whenever there is a disruption of cell-to-cell junctions. Depending on the stains seen will determine the eye diagnosis. 

The tear function index is another method of analyzing tear production and is similar to the anesthetized Schirmer test.

Options for Dry Eye Relief

Treatments for dry eyes focus on relieving the symptoms, are mostly lubricant or inflammation control based. These treatments help somewhat in helping people get dry eye relief from the irritation, dryness, and swelling that are the significant discomforts of the condition. 

The primary methods used to treat dry eyes include :

  • Adding tears. Minor cases of dry eyes can be controlled using over-the-counter artificial tear solutions. These can be used as needed. They add to natural tear production. It is best to uses preservative-free artificial tear solutions.
  • There are additional steps for people with dry eyes that don’t respond to artificial tears. 
  • Conserving tears. Having natural tears kept in the eyes longer can reduce the symptoms of dry eyes. Blocking tear ducts from where tears usually drain helps. The tear ducts can be blocked using silicone or gel-like plugs that can later be removed when needed. Alternatively, a medical procedure can close the tear ducts permanently. Regardless, the target is to keep the available tears in the eye longer.
  • Increasing tear production. Drops that increase tear production may be prescribed by your optometrist. Nutritional supplements like omega-3 fatty acids may also help.
  • Treating related eyelid or ocular surface inflammation. Prescription eye drops or ointments may be suggested by your optometrist. Warm compresses and eyelid massage, or lid cleaners to help lower the swelling around the surface of the eyes may also be indicated.

There are also a few things you can do as self-care that can help. For instance, remember to blink frequently while reading or using a computer for lengthy periods. Increase the humidity in rooms where you spend time, both at home and in the office. Wear sunglasses, take nutritional supplements, and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.

Another way to help with dry eye relief is to add foods that are rich in Omega-3 to your diet. These are a few foods that are rich in Omega-3 Salmon and Mackerel, Flax seeds and Chia seeds, Walnuts, Eggs, Canola Oil, and Soybeans. 

What Role Does Genetics Play?

For years, doctors have been trying to find a link between dry eye and genetics. At best, after many investigations and studies, it has been determined that genetics do play a role and that it is possible to inherit dry eye from parents and grandparents. 

When an Optometrist diagnoses dry eyes, it is vital to relate any family history. Newer studies found that genetics can play a significant role. In addition to age and gender, certain ethnic groups are more susceptible than others to developing dry eyes. 

Many eye diseases seem to be much more prevalent among Asians and Hispanics in particular. The American Academy of Ophthalmology has been recommending for years that Americans from these groups have regular testing from age 40 and that Americans over the age of 65 be tested biannually. 

Final Thoughts

Dry eye relief is not far away, and there is no need to suffer and possibly cause more damage to your eyes. These symptoms are telling you something is wrong. The best advice is to make an appoint with your doctor and get them checked out. 

If you’re experiencing eye dryness or any of the symptoms, take action to get dry eye relief. Review the list above if you’re uncertain. If you’re still not sure what to do, we can help, Contact us today to schedule an appointment.