At some point, nearly everyone experiences that gritty, uncomfortable feeling when their eyes become too dry. But for some people, dry eye is more than a temporary annoyance. It is an ongoing problem called ocular surface disease that demands constant management. Ocular surface disease is a very common disorder. It happens when your eyes don’t produce enough tears or the right quality of tears. Tears, which are made from three separate layers, are vital for keeping your eyes healthy and comfortable. Anyone can have ocular surface disease, though it is more common among women, particularly after menopause.
Environmental Factors That Can Cause Dry Eyes
Where you live may play a role in developing dry eyes. Two primary factors to consider:
- Air Pollution: People who live in major cities with high levels of air pollution may be more likely to suffer dry eye symptoms. A study of U.S. military veterans found people in and around Chicago and New York City were three to four times more likely to be diagnosed with dry eyes compared to people in areas with relatively little air pollution. And the American Lung Association’s 2020 “State of the Air” report ranks Cleveland the 11th most polluted city in the nation for year-round particle pollution.
- Altitude: People who live in higher-altitude zip codes, where the air is typically drier, are 13 percent more likely to develop symptoms than people at lower altitudes.
Solutions for Environmental Factors That May Cause Dry Eyes
Based on these study findings, our doctors recommend that dry eye sufferers who live in smoggy cities or very dry climates use specific tactics to help manage and control their symptoms. Specifically, they suggest:
- Using a high-quality air filter at home in areas with a lot of air pollution.
- Using a humidifier in the home to add moisture to dry air.
Here are some other ways you can minimize the impact of your environment:
- Protect your eyes in windy areas. If you are often in a windy area, wear a pair of wraparound sunglasses to reduce the chance of wind blowing directly into your eyes and drying them out. Remember that fans and hair dryers can make your eyes dry, so limit your exposure to them.
- Avoid cigarette smoke. Are you around cigarette smoke often, or do you smoke? There are already a lot of good reasons not to smoke or be exposed to second-hand smoke, but keep in mind that cigarette smoke can irritate your dry eyes. Smoking can also increase your risk of developing dry eye in the first place. Stay away from smoke.
How to Avoid and Manage Dry Eye Symptoms
No matter where you live, the following tips can help you manage your dry eye symptoms:
- Rest your eyes often and blink. Working at a computer, reading, or watching television can dry your eyes out. This is because you don’t blink as often as you normally do. Take breaks every ten minutes, give your eyes a rest and try to blink more frequently to help your eyes regain some of the moisture they’ve lost.
- Try artificial tears. Artificial tears are available without a prescription. Use them as often as you need to, but if you find yourself using them more than once every two hours, you may want to use tears that are preservative-free. Lubricating gels can also help. Because they are thicker and blur your vision, you should use them at bedtime.
- Omega-3 fatty acid supplements may help. Some people find relief from their dry eye symptoms by supplementing their diet with omega-3 fatty acids, found naturally in foods like oily fish (salmon, sardines, anchovies) and flax seeds.
- Care for your eyelids to help improve tear quality. Putting warm compresses on your eyes can help release oil in your eyelids’ glands, helping to improve the quality of your tears. Also, wash your eyelids carefully with a clean washcloth and soap and warm water, rinsing your eyes thoroughly afterward.
If you are struggling to manage the dry eye symptoms of ocular surface disease, schedule an appointment with your ophthalmologist to determine the best course of treatment for you.