As we age so do our eyes. They only get to rest when we are sleeping. When we do not get a good night’s sleep our eyes do not feel good in the morning. One of the medical age-related conditions that affects seniors is dry eye syndrome. Basically, as we age our eyes dry up, are less lubricated and burn, sting, feel like there is something in the eye and also can lead to a corneal abrasion. When the eyes are healthy they are constantly lubricated by basal tears, but aging leads to a lower production of tears or an inability for the eyes to stay properly lubricated. The National Eye Institute (NEI) estimates that millions of seniors in the United States suffer from dry eyes and this is more common in women after menopause and women have a higher rate of dry eyes than men.
Untreated Dry Eyes can Lead to Damage of the Cornea
Untreated dry eyes can lead to corneal abrasions and damage of the cornea. When eyes are very dry, when we wake up in the morning we can get an excruciating pain in an eye whereby we cannot even open the eye. This is usually a corneal abrasion that can happen when our eyes are too dry. You should see an eye doctor if this happens as the abrasion may need treatment with antibiotics or other eye medications.
Feels Like Something is in the Eye
Sometimes it only feels like something is in the eye and the eye may water a lot, as though it is trying to remove a foreign object. Usually a trip to the eye doctor can determine if there really is something in the eye or if it is just from dry eyes or both. You really should go to a qualified ophthalmologist (eye doctor) to make sure there is not really something in the eye. If there is something in the eye, the doctor will remove it and may also prescribe soothing drops or antibiotics to prevent infection.
Treatment for Dry Eye Syndrome
Your doctor can prescribe lubricating eye drops or artificial tears to keep the eyes moist. There are over-the-counter drops, gels and artificial tears, but it is best to get your doctor’s opinion. If you suffer from allergies try to use drops that are sterile and do not contain preservatives. Preservatives in eye medications are notorious for drying up the eyes.
Causes for Dry Eye Syndrome
- Aging and dry eye is more common in people over age 50.
- Hormone changes in women after menopause.
- Medicines that can dry up the eyes such as antihistamines, decongestants, hormones, blood pressure lowering drugs, drugs to treat Parkinson’s disease and more.
- Blepharitis which is inflammation of the eyelids can lead to dry eyes.
- Smoking cigarettes and second-hand smoke can also dry up the eyes.
- Some skin diseases like rosacea can also lead to dry eyes.
- Autoimmune diseases such as Sjögren’s syndrome, lupus, scleroderma, and rheumatoid arthritis can lead to dry eyes.
Metabolic diseases like diabetes and thyroid disorders can lead to dry eyes.
- Vitamin A deficiency is associated with dry eye.
- Environmental conditions like very dry weather or a lack of indoor humidity due to winter heating, dusty and smoky work places and air-conditioning can also contribute to dry eye syndrome.
- Allergies can also play a part in dry eyes.
- Sitting too long in front of a computer screen without blinking enough can also lead to dry eyes.
- Laser surgical treatments on the eyes can sometimes lead to dry eyes, although your doctor may prescribe artificial tears or drops to prevent this from happening.
Medical and Surgical Treatments
Your eye doctor may opt for certain surgical procedures in extreme cases or suggest certain kinds of eye devices.
The National Eye Institute is supporting research to improve treatments for dry eyes.
Other Age-Related Eye Disorders
Aging is also a high risk for more serious eye disorders that can lead to vision loss, low vision and blindness. So do not just treat yourself with over-the-counter drops, but see a good ophthalmologist (eye doctor) for a dilated eye exam (painless) to make sure you do not have other age-related eye conditions like glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration (AMD) that can lead to vision loss. Diabetics also have risks for diabetic retinopathy and have higher risk for eye problems. When caught early these conditions can be treated to prevent vision loss and blindness. See our blog post from February 20, 2018 to learn more about age-related eye conditions that can lead to vision loss and blindness. See also our blog post from February 19, 2019, about living with low vision.
Short or Long-term Rehabilitation and Skilled Nursing Care
If you or your loved one are in need of short or long-term rehabilitation and skilled nursing care, be sure to choose a facility like the Van Duyn Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing in Syracuse, New York that has a consultant ophthalmologist available to the Van Duyn medical staff.
Treasure your eyes and make sure to have an annual dilated eye exam by a qualified ophthalmologist (eye doctor) to catch any problems early. While dry eyes make people miserable enough to run to eye doctors, the most serious age-related eye diseases that can lead to vision loss and blindness cause no symptoms whatsoever until irreversible eye damage has taken place. Only a yearly eye exam can catch these and treat these conditions to prevent blindness.