If your eyes a frequently scratchy, irritated and red, you may be suffering from symptoms of Dry Eye and with the change of season this may be more complicated than it seems.

What is Dry Eye?

Dry eye is characterised by too few tears or tears that are of poor quality.

Here is a short biology lesson to help clear this up:

The tear layer is made up of 3 separate layers. The bottom layer that is in contact with the eye itself is the mucous layer and it keep the tears adhered to the eye surface. The middle layer is the watery layer; it is the moisture layer that is produced by the tear glands. The topmost layer is the oily layer and is formed by tiny glands on the eyelid margin. This layer keeps the tear layer in place by reducing evaporation.

How does one know what the underlying cause is? Your optometrist is able to answer that question based on questions he/she will ask you as well as an examination of your tear layer under an instrument called a Slitlamp or Biomicroscope. This is a part of a comprehensive eye examination.

Most causes of dry eye result from too few tears being formed or too little oil resulting in too much evaporation. This is why sometimes eyes can feel gritty and irritated and water profusely and sometimes, red, sandy and scratchy. All of this results from dry eye but are treated slightly differently by your optometrist.

What About Allergies?

Seasonal allergies can cause symptoms that are similar to the symptoms of chronic dry eye especially is spring and autumn when allergens are more abundant outside. While dryness, redness and burning is common to both dry eyes and allergies, itchiness is more likely with allergies and usually appears with nasal congestion as well.

To complicate matters further, it is likely that allergies and dry eye appear together!

Dry Eye and Seasonal Changes

Temperature, humidity, wind and seasonal changes have a big impact on the health of your eyes; here are some tips for dealing with the changes:

1.    A comprehensive eye exam can diagnose dry eye accurately and your optometrist will give you guidance regarding the underlying reason as well as treatment options. Untreated dry eye is a serious condition that can lead to frequent infections and even eye damage. Treatments may include specific eye drops, lid scrubs, lid hygiene or warm lid compresses.

2.    Your optometrist will be able to advise on allergy treatments if necessary and oral antihistamines may need to be prescribed by your GP. Bear in mind that some decongestant medication and oral antihistamines can aggravate the symptoms of dry eye.

3.    Cold dry air exacerbates dry eyes outdoors and heaters and fireplaces indoors dry out the environment perpetuating the dry eye cycle. Ask your optometrist which eye drops are suitable for you and use a humidifier to add moisture to the air in your home.