Tired, Irritated Eyes: Two Experts Give Their Best Tips

Suffering from tired, irritated eyes? We asked two medical experts—one an optometrist, the other a holistic nutritionist—to weigh-in on how to cope with this common health condition.

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Man with irritated eyes
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An Optometrist’s Tips for Tired, Irritated Eyes

Dry eye syndrome can cause the tear-producing glands in the eyelids to malfunction, resulting in soreness. This condition can be triggered by a number of factors, from lack of sleep to poor diet to chronic irritation (often from dust or paint fumes) that damage the delicate glands in the lids.

Another possible cause of dry eye is an imbalance in the layers of tears. There are three components to tears – water, which hydrates the surface of the cornea; mucus, which provides nutrition to the cornea; and oil, which prevents evaporation. If this mix is disturbed, dry eye will result. Seasonal changes, such as cooler temperatures and dry air once the furnace turns on, can also lead to irritation.

To open blocked glands in the lids and restore the natural balance of your tears, try applying a warm washcloth to closed lids every day for about five minutes. Mild cases of dry eye can also be treated – and greatly relieved – with over-the-counter eye drop and lubricants. But if you have to use those remedies more than four times a day for an extended period of time, it could be a sign your condition is worsening.

If you’ve exhausted all the above solutions and are still suffering, it’s time to see your eye doctor to rule out possible diseases and disorders, including arthritis, Sjögren’s Syndrome (an immune system disorder) and thyroid afflictions which may require additional interventions. Whatever you do, don’t ignore the problem, as severe dry eye can threaten your vision in the long run.

Dr. Harvey Bass is an optometrist in Grand Falls, N.B.

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Woman with eye drops
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A Holistic Nutritionist’s Tips for Tired, Irritated Eyes

Dry eye syndrome is a common ailment that occurs when tears can’t provide adequate lubrication for the eyes. Environmental conditions, such as arid indoor air, may be a cause, as can other factors, such as poor nutrition, prescription drug side effects and the natural aging process.

Diet can play a major role in the treatment and prevention of dry eyes. Foods that are rich in essential fatty acids – such as evening primrose oil, oils made from corn and soybeans, fatty fish (including salmon, sardines and herring) and flaxseed – help restore the eye’s lipid layer and prevent tears from evaporating quickly. Drinking a sufficient amount of water (about eight to 10 glasses a day) is essential, too. Dry eye sufferers can also benefit from a regular glucosamine sulphate supplement. For most people, taking 500 milligrams three times a day will help build up the cornea and prevent corneal damage related to dryness, but talk to your doctor or nutritionist first to ensure this dosage is right for you.

To treat an ongoing problem, it’s important to avoid known irritants, such as smoking and staring at computer screens for extended periods (use the 20/20/20 rule: to give your eyes a break, look 20 metres away, out a window or across the room, for 20 seconds every 20 minutes, and even blink frequently), and prevent sun damage by wearing sunglasses when outdoors. Getting regular sleep is also key, as it gives your eyes the rest they need and your body a chance to repair and detoxify, which, in turn, helps reduce inflammation.

Jennifer Perry is a registered holistic nutritionist in Halifax.

Reader's Digest Canada
Originally Published in Reader's Digest Canada

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