Our bodies are truly amazing. They allow us to do things as simple as walk down the street and as complex as dancing the tango. Our lungs breathe and our heart pumps blood where it needs to go without us ever having to think about it. There are so many things about our bodies we couldn’t do without, but today, I want to talk about one particular part that is essential to nearly everything we do–our eyes.
Not only are they windows to the soul that can convey our emotions, but they also guide us through the simplest day-to-day tasks. Without much upkeep on our parts, the eyes act as complex, self-contained units.
So, what are we to do when our eyes suddenly start causing us problems?
One common problem is a condition called Dry Eye Syndrome (DES). If you’ve ever experience it, you have probably felt pretty helpless. DES is an eye disease that cannot usually be prevented, and it can fill your everyday life with irritation and discomfort.
What Exactly Is Dry Eye Syndrome?
Many of my patients are relieved to know that they haven’t done anything wrong to bring about DES. If you’ve talked to a lot of your friends about this irritating problem, you know that it’s a very common condition shared by approximately 10 to 14 million Americans, often over the age of 40.
Many people thing aging is to blame, but my research has revealed that a variety of factors can cause DES. Hormonal changes caused by age or medication, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus can all lead to DES. If you have dry eye and take certain antidepressants, antihistamines or beta-blockers, your prescription may actually be the cause. It might pay off to discuss the problem with your doctor to find out if a different therapy is available.
Whatever the cause of your dry eye problem, it all comes down to the layer of the eye called the “tear film.” This clear layer is responsible for tear production as well as keeping the moisture and oils on our eyes from evaporating too quickly. When our tear glands are not able to produce this moisture or the tear film fails to retain enough moisture, we experience the itchiness, redness, blurry vision or light sensitivity of DES.
Take Charge with Natural Remedies
I speak with a lot of people with DES who think the only thing for them to do is sit back and take the discomfort–not so! There are quite a few ways you can make life with DES a lot more manageable. Better yet, some of the best ways to combat the condition are completely natural.
DES can be a “seasonal” condition because it tends to be more irritating in the winter months when the air is very dry and windy conditions abound. During the winter months you are often forced to crank up the heat which only makes matters worse by sending more dry air your way.
A basic humidifier will help tremendously. You can put one in your bedroom and another where you spend most of your time like the kitchen or a home office. In the summer, when air-conditioning is a necessity, your humidifier will add much-needed moisture to dry, cool air. If you use fans of any type try turning them down to low in order to minimize drafts. Just like the wind outside, air movement in the home will aggravate DES.
One surprising product that can help you remedy DES is baby shampoo. Use it to gently massage your eyelids. This works in three important ways. First, the motion will stimulate the tear glands; second, the warmth generate by the massage will help the eye oils to flow more easily; and lastly, the baby shampoo will clear away any bacteria that may be causing irritation. It might seem counter-intuitive to put soap in your eyes, but this stuff is designed to be as mild as pure tears!
Did you know that many people sleep with their eyes partially open? It sounds strange, but if you’re one of the people who do, it could be making your DES worse. Special goggles called moisture chambers will prevent air from drying out your eyes while you sleep. If you want a really quick fix, you can also tape your eyes shut at night. It might look funny, but you’ll be glad when you don’t wake up with dry, itchy eyes.
I hope I’ve showed you that it’s not necessary to suffer silently if you have DES. Talk to your doctor or ophthalmologist about your particular symptoms, and soon you’ll be back to enjoying life with clear eyes.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.