Tears are necessary for maintaining healthy eyes and for providing clear vision. Dry eye is a common condition that occurs either when your eyes do not produce enough tears or when the composition or quality of your tears is such that they cannot adequately perform their function of lubricating and nourishing your eyes.
Symptoms of dry eye can include irritated, gritty, scratchy or burning eyes; a feeling of something in your eyes; excess watering; and blurred vision. Chronic dry eyes may damage the front surface of the eye and impair your vision.
There are several causes and types of dry eye, and treatments vary based on this. A common cause of dry eye is meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD), which causes an insufficient oil secretion from the eyelids into the tears. One of the best ways to unclog the meibomian glands is the application of moist heat against the eye for 10 minutes. How do we typically do this? Most of us wet a wash cloth with hot water, press it gently against our eyes and think we’ve been successful. The problem is that the wash cloth only stays hot enough to be effective for 30 seconds to a minute, not enough time to affect the change needed to unclog these glands.
A far better way to provide safe and effective moist heat to your eyes is by using a Thera°Pearl® eye mask, shown here:
These masks have many little gel beads that can be heated up (or frozen) to provide eye therapy for headaches/sinuses, puffy eyes, and dry eye. I’ve asked the Harvard Vanguard pharmacy at Wellesley and Post Office Square (where I work) to stock these masks, but products and brands with the Thera°Pearl technology can be found at CVS, Walgreen’s, Target, and online (Amazon).
To use the mask, heat it according to the directions on the box and apply it to the eyelids for 8-10 minutes. At the end of that time, when the lids are heated and the pores are open, I tell my patients to close their eyes and massage their eyelids in a vertical motion (gently push from the upper eyelid down and from the lower eyelid up) to move that oil around and release it into the eye. At first, I recommend doing this treatment once per day. It’s typically best to do at night as you should remove all make-up, contacts, etc. Once your eyes are responding to the treatment, you can stretch out this therapy to a few times per week.
Other treatments that can help dry eye include using lubricating eye drops like Refresh Tears® or something thicker such as GenTeal® Gel. Taking omega-3 supplements, sleeping with a cool humidifier, and consciously blinking regularly when you’re doing computer and near work can also help, but given the number of different causes of dry eye, it’s very important to ask your optometrist for recommendations that will be successful for your particular condition.