Dry Eyes As We Age

As we age, we are much more likely to suffer from dry eye, even if other common causes of it are not present. Why is that, and what does it mean in terms of treatment?

Dry Eyes As We Age in Chattanooga

Amplify Eyecare Chattanooga

Dry eye is extremely common as we age, with most people over the age of 65 experiencing some amount of dry eye symptoms, and it is more common among women than men. As with dry eye more generally, age-related dry eye is often mild, but can be more severe and damaging, so it should not be left untreated.

What Causes Age-Related Dry Eye?

Immune System Changes

We start aging from the moment we’re born, and experience changes over the course of our lives. Some of these changes, especially the ones which occur as we reach more advanced ages, can lead to dry eye.

The immune system goes through some changes as people age. This includes a decline in immune function.

A common feature of this is chronic, low-grade inflammation, called inflammaging. This is due to an increase of cytokines, which leads to more inflammation. Older people also become more susceptible to autoimmune issues, and are more susceptible to infections.

While the precise mechanics of the aging process are still not fully understood, there are connections which have been made between aging and dry eye.

Inflammation has been found to play a major role in dry eye, and since inflammation throughout the body is more common as we age, it is more likely to lead to conditions like dry eye in older people.

As we age we also become more susceptible to stress, and increased stress on the body can lead to autoimmune responses and inflammation, which can lead to dry eye symptoms.

What Causes Age-Related Dry Eye?
Meibomian Gland Degeneration

Meibomian Gland Degeneration

As people age, the meibomian glands (which produce oil that slows the evaporation rate of tears) become more easily blocked and can start to degenerate. If too little of this oil, or low quality oil, is produced, the tears will evaporate too quickly, leading to dry eyes.

Meibomian Gland Degeneration

Hormonal Changes

Hormonal changes can also increase the likelihood of dry eye, which is why post-menopausal women are particularly susceptible to dry eye. In fact, about 60 percent of perimenopausal and menopausal women are affected by dry eye syndrome. Additionally, HRT (hormone replacement therapy), which is used by many women to manage their menopausal symptoms, is linked to dry eye.

Medication

Several other medications, including some heart medication such as plaquinil, have been found to cause dry eye. Since, due to other health issues like hypertension, rheumatoid arthritis, and diabetes, older people are more likely to require medication, this is more likely to lead to dry eye symptoms for them.

What Causes Age-Related Dry Eye?
Meibomian Gland Degeneration

Treatment of Age-Related Dry Eye

Over the Counter Remedies

Remedies such as artificial tears, eye drops, and ointments can effectively relieve mild symptoms. However, if your symptoms are more persistent or severe, it is advised to see a doctor. 

Humidifiers

Humidifiers can be placed in your home to increase the humidity and moisture in the environment. While most people see them as beneficial for the skin and respiratory system, they can help keep your eyes moist as well.

Hydration

Making sure that you stay hydrated, drinking at least 8 cups of water daily, can help ensure your body keeps your eyes properly moist and avoid symptoms of dry eye.

Reduce Screen TIme

Everyone is susceptible to dry eye caused by overuse of screens (due to less frequent blinking), and for older people this is even more true. Reducing the amount of time you spend looking at screens, or taking more frequent breaks, can help you avoid dry eye symptoms.

Specialized Treatment

For more severe cases, in-office treatment may be required. Following an examination to determine the cause and severity of your dry eye, the doctor will recommend treatment options.

Common Questions

There are various symptoms of dry eyes such as your eyes feeling gritty, irritated, scratchy, foreign body sensation, burning, excessive watering/tearing, redness, blurry vision, or you may experience light sensitivity. Dry eyes can also cause your eyes to feel tired. However, there can also be other causes of eye fatigue. Some activities that can result in your eyes feeling tired is prolonged use of digital devices, reading without breaks, activities that involve extended focus, being exposed to bright light/glare or straining your eyes because of dim lighting, uncorrected vision, or being stressed/fatigued.
Dry Eyes As We Age
Dr. McBryar cartoon

Summary

Our risk of dry eye increases as we age, for a variety of reasons. However, effective treatments remain available for this condition. If you are experiencing dry eye symptoms, contact us at Amplify EyeCare Chattanooga to schedule an appointment for an eye exam.

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