A whole range of day-to-day factors, from central heating and air conditioning to computer screens and air pollution, can put strain on your eyes and lead to itchiness, stinging, burning, redness or a feeling of fatigue. These unpleasant symptoms can be an indication of a medical condition known as “dry eye” syndrome.
Dry eye occurs when there’s not enough tear fluid hydrating the conjunctiva and cornea. There can be various reasons for this: your eyes may be producing too little tear fluid, the composition of your tear fluid may have changed, or you may be blinking less frequently. The latter is particularly prevalent among people working at the computer: in extreme cases their rate of blinking can be as low as only once or twice a minute. This is a problem, as regular blinking is vital when it comes to coating the eye evenly with tears. So you should take regular breaks and concentrate on blinking.
Bad quality air
Air quality can be another factor in dry eyes. In the winter your tears evaporate more quickly because central heating makes the air drier; in summer air conditioning can have the same effect. Smoke, dust and exhaust fumes in the air can also lead to the same sort of symptoms. In this case eye drops or gels can help, making the film of tears more viscous so that it remains on the surface of the eye for longer. You can get these artificial tears from your chemist or optician.
Or an actual medical condition
Red eyes can sometime indicate inflammation of the cornea, while itching, burning or stinging may be due to infection (because, for example, an insect or grain of sand gets into the eye). Other causes of dry eye can include changes in the shape of the eyeball, conjunctival scars, a disorder of the sebaceous glands in the eyelids, or nerve damage. As a rule it’s advisable to consult an eye specialist if the symptoms don’t go away within a short time.
Here are a few tips for avoiding dry eyes:
- Drink plenty of water or unsweetened tea.
- Make sure the air’s moist enough, for example by using a humidifier.
- Get plenty of vitamin A and omega fatty acids in your diet.
- Avoid drafts.
- Wear glasses rather than contact lenses when you work at the computer.
- If possible, only use the computer during the day; if you do have to work at night, make the screen slightly less bright.
- Use eye drops or gel from time to time.