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Glaucoma and dry eyes

by John Milton
Glaucoma and dry eyes

Glaucoma is a common condition that causes damage to the optic nerve which if left untreated can cause vision loss or blindness. Dry eye disease is a condition that causes eyes to feel dry and irritated, due to a lack of tears to keep the eyes hydrated. Glaucoma and dry eyes are often experienced together, in fact, 50-60% of people who are being treated for glaucoma also have dry eye disease.

What is dry eye?

Dry eye stops you from producing enough tears, or your eyes do produce enough but these tears lack the oily layer which prevents the tears from evaporating. This can lead to uncomfortable symptoms such as:

  • Irritated
  • Gritty
  • Red eyes
  • Light sensitivity (photophobia)
  • Watery eyes
  • Blurred vision
  • Soreness
  • Stinging
  • Feeling like there is something in your eye

What causes dry eye?

  • Being older
  • Medications such as antidepressants, decongestants, drugs for high blood pressure, hormone replacement therapy, antihistamines, acne, birth control and Parkinson’s disease
  • Medical conditions such as allergic eye disease, graft vs. host disease, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren’s syndrome, scleroderma, lupus, vitamin A deficiency, sarcoidosis or thyroid disorders
  • Corneal nerve sensitivity caused by contact lens use, nerve damage or that caused by laser eye surgery, though symptoms of dry eyes related to this procedure are usually temporary

Age can be a contributing factor to having both of these conditions at the same time. The older you are, the more likely you are to develop both dry eyes and glaucoma. Medical conditions such as allergic eye disease and lupus can also make your eyes feel dry. Some medications, such as birth control, high blood pressure medication and acne medication can cause dry eye. Some experience dry eyes after laser eye surgery, but this is usually temporary.

What is glaucoma?

Glaucoma is a condition that causes damage to the optic nerve, which can lead to blindness is left untreated. There are different types of glaucoma, and

Glaucoma can affect people of all different ages, but it most commonly affects those aged over 70. Glaucoma is usually caused by a build up of fluid behind the eye which causes pressure.

What are the symptoms of glaucoma?

Often there are no symptoms of glaucoma, so it can sometimes be a long time before a diagnosis is made. The condition develops slowly over time. Routine eye tests are vitally important for situations such as these, as conditions or diseases can be discovered in the very early stages by an optician or eye care professional. Be sure to visit your optician at least once every 2 years, or more often than this if recommended by a health care professional.

Symptoms of this condition include:

  • Severe eye pain
  • Blurred vision
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Red eyes
  • Tender eye area
  • Seeing rings around lights
  • Headaches

Is there a cure for glaucoma?

Unfortunately, there is not a cure for glaucoma, however, the progression of vision loss can be slowed or stopped if the condition is discovered early. Depending on the type of glaucoma you have, surgery or medication will be given, with the aim of lowering the pressure of the eyes.

How can dry eye be treated?

There are a few ways you can help to minimise the symptoms of dry eyes. You can use eye drops for dry eyes to soothe irritated and over-worked eyes. For more severe cases of this condition, you can use an overnight ointment such as Hycosan Night. Due to the consistency of the product, these ointments should never be used with contact lenses, as it can cause blurry vision. Although these ointments can be used during the daytime, you should avoid driving or operating machinery if you do.

Some other ways you can minimise dry eye:

  • Take regular breaks from digital screens
  • Try to blink more often
  • Switch to wearing glasses for a while
  • Keep the eye area clean everyday
  • Avoid rooms with strong air conditioning or heating

If none of the above remedies work, contact your optician and they will suggest some alternative methods for alleviating your symptoms.

How is glaucoma and dry eye treated?

Glaucoma and dry eye often occur at the same time because they share the risk factors of age and diabetes.

Dry eye can be very uncomfortable, symptoms can be persistent and sometimes they can come and go throughout the day. With those that have both dry eye and glaucoma, usually the glaucoma is treated first because it is the more serious disease that can lead to blindness if left untreated. Dry eye is uncomfortable and you may feel like this is the more urgent matter, however this condition is generally not dangerous and will not affect your vision long-term, although it can lead to abrasion of the corneal surface as well as leaving you more susceptible to developing eye diseases.

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