According to the NEI (National Eye Institute), in this article, “dry eye occurs when the eye does not produce tears properly, or when the tears are not of the correct consistency and evaporate too quickly“.
Dry eye syndrome can be temporary or chronic in nature and the specific cause of dry eye symptoms can vary. Dry eye symptoms can include stinging, burning, a feeling of grittiness in the eyes, excess tears, discharge or soreness at times.
Depending on their severity, these symptoms can be very uncomfortable and challenging to deal with. The best thing you can do when you become aware of these symptoms is to make an appointment with an ophthalmologist and/or your primary care doctor so you can get help with figuring out the cause of these symptoms and with implementing a plan of care that will be helpful for your specific situation.
There are prescription medications that can help with dry eye. If you’d like to additionally try life style changes that may be helpful to try at home with a thumbs-up from your doctor, keep reading for strategies to consider.
Disclaimer: These are non-clinical life-style change strategies that may or may not be helpful depending on the cause of your dry eye symptoms. Any suggestions in this article are not intended to serve as a replacement for medical advice from your doctor. Please consult your doctor if you have dry eye symptoms.
Reduce Screen Time and Blink More
As elaborated on in this WebMD article, the reduction in blink rate when we’re focused on screens can lead to drier eyes and may change the balance in the content of tears – affecting their ability to keep our eyes moistened and comfortable. Simply put, an intense, unblinking focus on a screen, while effective for getting things done, can also cause eye strain and contribute to symptoms of dry eye.
If you can reduce the amount of time you spend focused on any kind of of screen during the day, you will reduce the strain on your eyes. This could be your laptop, phone, television, iPad or any other technology screen.
Intentionally taking longer breaks from our devices can be helpful with preventing the exacerbation of dry eye symptoms in addition to increasing the number of times we blink..
Consider trying the 20-20-20 rule in addition to taking frequent breaks – look at an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds for every 20 minutes of screen time. Consider taking a 5 minute break for a quick walk or stretch every hour.
Screen time can have other negative effects beyond eye strain. The American Academy of Pediatrics, in this post recommends no screen time for kids until the age of 2 with the exception of video chatting and also recommends no more than one hour of screen time per week day and 3 hours on weekends for children between the ages of 2 and 5.
Reduce the Brightness Level of all your Technology Screens and Consider the Lighting in your Environment
When considering your screen displays and the surrounding lighting in the room you’re in, think of how you can minimize eye fatigue. Your goal should be to minimize contrast and brightness.
You can purchase a matte glare filter for your screen to reduce the glare from your screen. Also, make sure that your screen’s display isn’t brighter than your surroundings. Minimize the contrast between the lighting of your display and that of your room environment. If your screen is brighter than your environment, click over to your device’s display settings menu and reduce the brightness level.
You can also reduce the glare on your screen by dimming the lights of the room you’re in or placing your device so it is not pointing at direct sunlight or a lamp. If you do have a desk lamp, point it away from your screen.
Consider placing your screen 20-40 inches away from your eyes (the further the better) and angle the screen so your face is parallel to it to minimize any visual discomfort.
Switch the Background of Your Display to Black or a Dark Color
I’ve personally noticed that reducing the brightness of the background of my display helps. I find that especially when reading an e-book, if I switch to a black background with lighter lettering and decrease the brightness of the display, it is easier on my eyes.. Your mileage may vary, however, it may be worth trying this out to see if it makes a difference for you.
Increase Your Green Leafy Vegetable and Omega-3 Intake
This study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that a higher intake of Omega-3 fatty acids from sea food (portions equivalent to 3 servings of tuna per week) and plant sources (such as flaxseeds) was associated with a decreased incidence of Dry Eye Syndrome (DES) in women.
While the study mentioned above primarily looked at the benefits of Omega-3 rich foods for the prevention of dry eye, a diet filled with green leafy vegetables and foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids may help with your overall health as well.
A deficiency in Vitamin A can also contribute to dry eye symptoms. Adding more vitamin A-rich spinach to your diet can help with preventing vitamin A deficiency. Additionally, the American Heart Association also recommends 2 servings of fatty fish per week here as Omega-3 rich foods may help with the prevention of heart disease and stroke as well.
For a more detailed list of foods that support eye health, take a look at this Mayo Clinic list. The four categories of recommended foods are vegetables, fruits, sources of zinc and Omega-3-rich foods.
Try Using Preservative-Free Lubricant Eye Drops Especially Before and During Extended Screen Time if your Doctor Approves
Artificial tears provide lubrication for your eyes and can make your eyes more comfortable especially during periods of extended focus.
According to this article from the Mayo Clinic, non-prescription artificial tears or lubricant eye drops can be of two types. Those that often come in multi-dose bottles and contain preservatives to discourage the growth of bacteria and those that may come in single dose vials and are preservative-free. Artificial tears provide lubrication and may contribute to healing of the eyes.
Preservatives may irritate your eyes especially if you need to use lubricant eye drops frequently during the day. Preservative-free eye drops may not be as economical but could be less irritating for your eyes. Talk to your doctor about the different options and what makes sense for your particular situation.
Try Eye Exercises
This goes hand in hand with the goal of increasing our blink rate while using any electronic device.
To exercise your eyes, try eye pencil-pushup exercises every 20 minutes – take a pencil or a pen and move it from left to right in front of your eyes and have your eyes follow the motion.
For a forward and backwards motion, do the same as above, except move the pencil in toward your eyes and out toward the wall directly in front of you so your eyes focus in at different distances.
Lastly, look all the way around the room. Look up at the ceiling and then down at your feet. Exercise your eye muscles frequently throughout the day.
Consider Using a Humidifier if the Humidity Levels Where You Live are Low
Consider getting a portable humidifier or putting a pan of water near your heat source to increase humidity if the humidity levels in your work or living space are low. This can be especially helpful if you live in a region with a drier climate or if you turn the heat up in colder winter months which causes moisture to evaporate.
Drink More Water
In a study on the connection between whole body hydration and dry eye, here, researchers found that patients with dry eye had suboptimal body hydration. It can be easy to drink only coffee or tea during the day and neglect your water intake. Consider adding automatic and easy ways to hydrate during the day.
Drink 2 glasses of water when you wake up in the morning. Reach for your water bottle each time you take a break from screen time. Try for an amount of half your body weight in ounces each day. If that feels like too much, add in 2 glasses of water per day the first week you start with this – then, keep increasing your water intake in subsequent weeks until you reach the requisite amount.
Try a Warm Compress
A Harvard study, here, found that warm compress therapy applied to closed eyelids for just 5 minutes at a time helped with an increase in tear-film lipid layer thickness after application.
You can purchase warm compress eye masks such as the Bruder’s eye mask (talk to your doctor for more product recommendations) to use for a few minutes every morning and evening. Alternatively, take a washcloth, dip it in warm water and place it over your eyes for upto 5 minutes. This may help to alleviate dry eye symptoms.
Note: Start with using a warm compress for 1 minute at a time. Remove the compress and let your doctor know if you feel any discomfort. Make sure that you keep the compress at a luke-warm temperature – don’t put anything hot on your eyes.
Gently Clean Your Eyelids Every Day
Gently cleaning your eyelids every day is important especially if you wear makeup. Good eye-lid hygiene can help with the prevention of collection of debris on the edge of your eyelids that can interfere with your eye’s oil glands. Use a gentle eyelid cleaner (ask your doctor for a product recommendation) and a cotton pad to cleanse your eyes and then thoroughly rinse your eyes with water. Try this at least twice a day or more depending on your needs and your doctor’s recommendations.
Consider Reducing Antihistamine Intake and Review Other Medications For Side Effects
Antihistamines can also contribute to dry eye symptoms. If you have trouble with allergies and dry eyes, talk to your doctor about how you can manage both and what medications could help alleviate allergy symptoms without exacerbating dry eyes. Have your doctor review any other medications for side effects that may contribute to dry eyes as well.
While it can be challenging to deal with dry eyes, taking specific actions to alleviate the symptoms can help.
Have you dealt with dry eye symptoms? If you have, what strategies or life style changes have helped you?