Dry eye is a condition experienced by many elderly people as their eyes change due to age. Although dry eye can be uncomfortable and painful, it is not a dangerous health condition and is fairly easy to treat in many cases. Dry eye can be addressed at a routine eye examination, which all seniors should have regularly. Elder caregivers can help seniors address their dry eye symptoms so they can be more comfortable.
Causes of Dry Eye
There are two main causes of dry eye. Often, older eyes produce fewer tears because of certain medical conditions, side effects of medications they take, or just because of age. Seniors who live in windy or dry climates can suffer from dry eye due to the increased evaporation of their tears in these conditions.
The other cause of dry eye is an inadequate amount of water in the tears, which are made of an oily layer, mucus layer and water layer. This condition is called keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS) and is known as dry eye syndrome.
Symptoms of Dry Eye
Pain, burning and irritation are the typical symptoms of dry eye. Other symptoms include a gritty or scratchy feeling, a feeling that something is in the eye, and blurry or damaged vision. Severe cases of dry eye may lead to damage on the front surface of the eye, which can impair vision.
By age 65, the majority of people have some symptoms of dry eyes.
Optometrists can look at a patient's medical history for health conditions or medications that can lead to dry eyes, examine the eyes closely, and use light and special dyes to check for abnormalities, amount of tears produced, and flow patterns of tears.
Treatment of Dry Eyes
There are various treatments for dry eyes that may help sufferers be more comfortable and sometimes even see better. The most common treatment is over-the-counter artificial tears. There are many different brands to try, and they can be used as often as needed to relieve the irritation caused by dry eyes. Elderly caregivers may need to help administer the drops and make sure they are used often enough to give relief.
For some people, artificial tears alone don't provide relief of dry eye symptoms. Optometrists can also block the tear ducts where tears normally drain with tiny plugs so that natural tears stay in the eye longer, or even permanently close the tear ducts.
In addition, prescription drugs are available that can help increase the body's production of tears. For some, omega-3 fatty acid supplements can help as well. If eyes are inflamed, prescription ointments or eyelid cleaners can help decrease the inflammation. Being sure to drink enough water is also important, as dehydration can exacerbate dry eyes.
Making sure seniors drink enough water can help relieve symptoms of dry eye.
The Role of Elder Caregivers in Treating Dry Eyes
Elder caregivers can help seniors identify dry eyes if they recognize symptoms. They can also help seniors understand their treatment options and follow through with treatment once they have a treatment plan.
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