Dry eye symptoms have traditionally been more prevalent in people in their 40s, 50s and above. But that may no longer be the case. In fact, Key-Whitman Eye Centers Dallas Optometrist Amanda Hoelscher, O.D. has seen a dramatic rise in dry eye complaints from patients in their teens and 20s in the past five years.
Dr. Hoelscher discusses the dry eye symptoms more younger patients are experiencing.Digital eye strain exacerbates dry eye symptoms in Millennials
“As we spend more time on the computer for work, and more time on computers and other digital devices for play, the increase of dry eye complaints has grown significantly. Today I’m seeing more patients in their teens and 20s complaining about eye discomfort than ever before,” says Dr. Hoelscher.
According to the Vision Council, nearly 40 percent of Millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996) spend at least nine hours on digital devices every day. In addition, roughly 70 percent of heavy digital screen users complain of symptoms associated with digital eye strain – including dry eye symptoms, blurry eyes, fatigue and neck and shoulder cramping.
A “classic” case: 20-something accountant struggles with dry eye
Dr. Hoelscher recently treated a patient in her 20s who works as an accountant and came in with complaints of dry eye symptoms in the heat of tax season. As she explains, “The patient had been wearing contacts for years without any issues. As tax season heated up, she was working long hours and experiencing dry eye symptoms that made wearing contacts nearly impossible.”
The patient complained of several of the common symptoms associated with dry eye syndrome. Common dry eye symptoms include:
- Burning sensation in the eye.
- Grittiness in the eye.
- Pain in the eye (sometimes severe).
- Vision gets fuzzier as the day progresses.
- Trouble seeing on the drive home from work.
Like many other young patients with dry eye problems, excessive hours focused on near work and the computer screen likely led to the accountant’s dry eye symptoms.
So WHY does extended screen time dry out our eyes?
According to Dr. Hoelscher, several key factors contribute to the dry eye symptoms caused by excessive screen time. These include:
- Staring at the screen for long periods of time without blinking.
- Not blinking properly, where the eyelids touch.
- Not taking regular breaks.
- Increased exposure to blue light. (Learn about the dangers of blue light from digital devices in this past post: “How Our High-Tech World Is Threatening Our Eyes”)
Dr. Hoelscher explains how to blink properly and why blinking is so important.
Manage and avoid dry symptoms with “Dry Eye Smart Strategies”
After developing a treatment plan for the accountant who was struggling with dry eye during tax season, Dr. Hoelscher also offered her several “Dry Eye Smart Strategies” that the patient could use to ward off dry eye symptoms in the future. Afterall, she and her contemporaries will be sitting in front of a screen of some sort for 40 or 50 years or more. Right?
Here are a few “Dry Eye Smart Strategies” you might consider:
1. Retrain yourself to blink properly. During the workday, consciously take time to blink and blink completely – that means your top and bottom eyelids touch completely. This helps move the tears over the cornea so the eyes feel more comfortable.
2. Kick the staring habit. Try the 20/20/20 trick, where you take a break every 20 minutes and focus on an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
3. Use artificial tears. Many over-the-counter (OTC) eye drops work well. Ask your eye doctor for a recommendation for OTC artificial tears or prescription eye drops.
4. If you wear contacts, switch to daily contact lenses. Daily contacts combat protein deposits that adhere to the lens, which in turn affects hydration of the lens and decreases comfort. “A question I often ask patients is ‘do you get excited or feel better’ when you put a fresh lens in? If so, you would benefit in most instances from wearing a daily lens,” Dr. Hoelscher says.
5. Be patient. For some patients, it takes awhile to home in on a treatment plan that works best for their individual circumstances. Your eye doctor can explain your options and let you know what to expect.
The root cause of dry eye varies, rely on a dry eye specialist for treatment and advice
“It’s important to know that there are three layers of tear film in the eye, a mucous layer that sits next to the eye, an aqueous layer in the middle and an oily layer on top. When there is an imbalance or decrease in any of these layers that will destabilize the tear film and can lead to dry eye syndrome,” says Dr. Hoelscher.
Optometrists like Dr. Hoelscher perform tests to determine the root cause of a patient’s dry eye symptoms. As she explains, “Before we can prescribe treatment we perform a complete eye exam and an osmolarity test to find out the extent of dryness. We also examine the eyelids to see if the eyes are producing the appropriate amount of oil into the tear film and perform other tests.”
Once the underlying cause of a patient’s dry eye symptoms is discovered an appropriate treatment plan can be prescribed. While Dr. Hoelscher typically starts patients on OTC lubricating drops she works closely with each individual to revise treatment as needed. Some patients respond well to other treatments such as:
- Punctal plugs, which preserve tears by blocking the drain in the eye.
- Serum tears, created by a compound pharmacy using the patient’s blood.
- Restasis,® which increases tear production.
- Hot compresses and lid scrubs to remove oil deposits.
- Lipiflow, a new treatment to unplug the meibomian glands.
Don’t ignore dry eye symptoms – regardless of your age
As Dr. Hoelscher explains, “If you don’t take steps to treat eye symptoms, those symptoms will probably get worse, not better. Many people also don’t realize that the pain associated with dry can be very severe and eye infections can easily occur if the condition isn’t treated appropriately. If you’re experiencing irritated, dry eyes, contact a dry eye specialist right away.”
To schedule an appointment with one of the dry eye specialists at Key-Whitman Eye Center in Dallas, North Dallas, Arlington, South Arlington, Mesquite or Plano, please call (214) 225-2577, or you can set up an appointment online here.
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