After years of wearing contact lenses, Ron Beben took his dry scratchy eyes for granted.
"I just didn't pay much attention to them. I thought it was because of the air or because I wore contacts -- and I thought because I'm going to be 65 that having dry eyes was part of normal aging," says the Toronto florist, who coped for years by plying his sore eyes with eye lubricants.
Then, when an ophthalmologist noticed that his eyelids weren't producing enough fluids, Beben began to research futher.
"Dry eye is a complaint that patients have when they feel a sense of dryness in the eye," says Dr. John Blaylock of Valley Laser Eye centre in Abbotsford, British Columbia. "The majority of the time it relates to a Meibomian gland deficiency."
But what have oil glands got to do with the watery tears that people with dry eye seem to lack? The tear film has three layers, explains Blaylock.
"It has a mucin layer which is adjacent to the eye and which holds the water onto the eye. It has the water layer which makes up the bulk of the tear film. And then there is a tiny thin oil layer across the surface produced by the Meibomian glands along the margin of the eyelid.
"These glands secrete the oil on the top of the eyelid so when you close the eyelid the upper eyelid grabs that oil and pulls it up on the outside of the water layer to prevent evaporation of the tear. There are many things that affect the tear film, but a deficiency in the oil glands is the most likely cause of a dry eye."
According to the American Optometric Association, tear production tends to diminish with age, with various medical conditions, or as a side effect of certain medications. Environmental conditions such as wind and dry air can affect tear volume, and our eyes usually become drier as we age. Menopause can be a turning point; more women than men suffer from dry eyes.
But it was the fact that dry eye may also be a side effect of Lasik Surgery that prompted Toronto eye surgeon Dr. Sheldon Herzig to seek a cure.
"Dry eye usually resolves itself within six months after laser surgery," says the co-founder of the Herzig Eye Institute. "But for some it can go on for many months. People who are susceptible to dry eye after laser treatments probably have a Meibomian gland dysfunction. I found that if we could get the oil flowing again, we could preserve their tears."
Dr. Herzig found a solution in something called LipiFlow, a new device that employs a kind of thermal cuff that is placed around the eyelids and which emanates heat to soften the secretions that are plugging the oil glands. Its air-filled baffle stem applies pressure that milks the glands empty and restores their functioning. "The idea is that the lipids are made to flow again," he says. Though one session is pricey ($700-$750 for each eye), patients find it lasts a year or more.
Dry eyes affect 30% of people and most are usually managed with over-the-counter artificial tear solutions -- a market estimated to be worth $1.7 billion annually, according to The Dry Eye Digest blog. Artificial tears and lubricants are listed and reviewed on dryeyezone.com, a patient resource website for people who suffer from dry eyes.
In addition, the dry eye industry now includes silicone tear duct plugs, Omega-3 fatty acid nutritional supplements, prescription eye drops to dampen inflammation, nighttime moisture goggles, even a $20 Dry Eye Rice Baggy (you heat it gently in the microwave and place it over your eyes to soothe them) available at dryeyeshop.com.
But after years of over-the-counter ointments and home remedies, Ron Beben dipped into his wallet to try LipiFlow.
"I thought maybe it will be good, or maybe it won't be. But it was easy and painless. I felt like there were warm compresses being put on my eyes. The procedure took all of 13 minutes. When it was finished, I blinked and there were the tears. It was quite wonderful."
Did You Know: Eye didn't know
Dry eyes can occur if your home or office has air conditioning or a dry heating system. Another cause is insufficient blinking, such as when you're staring at a computer screen all day. -- allaboutvision.com
Oh so dry
Symptoms of dry eye include:
Try this at home
Relieve dry eye discomfort by:
Cry me a river
According to Canadian author Tish Cohen (author of The Truth About Delilah Blue) and HarperCollins Canada, top tearjerkers of all time include:
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