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 how is it treated?
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.
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.
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. Learn more about meibomian gland dysfunction here.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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, you can reach out to your nearest Amplify EyeCare practice either via a call or in-person visit to schedule an appointment for an eye exam. Our team of eye care professionals is ready and equipped to provide you with the care you need.