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Understanding and Treating Dry Eye

Understanding and Treating Dry Eye

Aoulef, Algeria, receives less than 0.5 inches of rain annually; Ica, Peru, averages 0.09 inches, and the Dry Valleys of Antarctica get 0.0. Those super-arid spots might sound familiar to the 3 million folks in the U.S. suffering from dry eye. Fortunately, they have a better chance of seeing sufficient moisture than those locales.

Causes: According to a special issue of Optometry and Vision Science risk factors include wearing contact lenses, glaucoma meds, Asian descent, LASIK surgery, the acne medication isotretinoin, incomplete blinking, and dysfunction of the Meibomian glands (the main source of lipids that help tears coat the eyes’ surface). Sjogren’s Syndrome, an immune system disorder, is another cause. And dry eye may have a genetic link to other chronic pain conditions; researchers have found relieving dry eye doesn’t necessarily relieve eye pain.

Solutions: Saline-based eye drops and those containing cyclosporine, steroids, or a small-molecule integrin inhibitor, can provide relief. Discuss these options with your doc.

Unfortunately, 95 percent of those liquids are quickly expelled. So scientists are working on a drop that delivers microscopic packets of medicine that attach to tear film and dissolve gradually. Another potential innovation: A tiny, implantable electronic device that stimulates tear production—increasing it by 57 percent! And for Sjogren’s-related dry eye, in the lab researchers are repairing damaged tear glands using injections of a regenerative progenitor (stem) cell. Less high tech? Increasing intake of DHA omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon and sea trout and through supplements (DHA omega-3 alga oil; 900mg daily) may help.

Medically reviewed in August 2018.

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