The quality of your tears plays an enormous role in the health of your eyes. Tears keep the eyes comfortably lubricated, wash out particles and other irritants, and help to maintain good vision. When not enough tears are produced, or they lack the proper composition, dry eye syndrome can occur.
Affecting about 20 percent of the population, dry eye syndrome is a condition that causes burning, scratchiness, dryness, or a painful sensation in the eyes; in certain cases, it can also cause excessive tearing. It is especially prevalent in older people, and two to three times more likely to affect women than men. People with dry eye syndrome may notice that these symptoms worsen after long periods of working at the computer, reading, or watching TV. If left untreated, severe dry eye syndrome can cause corneal damage, leading to impaired vision. It is critical, therefore, that you see an ophthalmologist if you are experiencing any of these symptoms.
At Cape Fear Eye Associates, our ophthalmologists and optometrists treat dry eye syndrome with a number of different therapies, depending on the severity of the condition. For patients with mild symptoms, we may recommend the use of artificial tears to temporarily alleviate the effects. Preservative-free artificial tears are best, since they are more soothing and less likely to further irritate the eyes than those with preservatives. When symptoms are serious, any of the following treatments may be prescribed.
When inflammation of the cornea is involved, we may also prescribe an eye drop called Restasis to help enhance the patient’s natural tear production. Topical steroids in the form of an ointment or eyedrops may also be used to reduce inflammation.
For eyes that do not respond to treatment with eyedrops or ointment, we may recommend a simple procedure in which the flow of tears is blocked off by plugging the tear ducts. Punctal plugs, available in either dissolvable collagen or permanent silicone, help to keep the eyes moist since the tears no longer drain into the nose from the tear ducts. Punctal plugs are usually reserved for moderate to severe cases of dry eye syndrome.
Cape Fear Eye Associates also recommends that patients with dry eye syndrome take specialized nutritional supplements, such as BioTears™ or HydroEye® plus Lutein, which stimulate the natural production of eye lubricants. You can purchase these products on-site at our Fayetteville and Eastover locations.
What You Can Do
If you have dry eye syndrome, there are a number of things you can do on your own to improve your condition. Drink plenty of water to keep your body hydrated and to flush out impurities—eight to ten glasses a day are recommended. Make a conscious effort to blink your eyes more frequently, especially during prolonged periods of reading or watching TV. Avoid cigarette smoke, overly heated rooms, and wind.
The retina plays a central role in visual perception, enabling you to see objects in your field of vision. Composed of millions of photoreceptor cells at the back of the eye, the retina captures light and converts it into electronic impulses that travel to the brain, where they are converted into images. The macula, at the center of the retina, is responsible for central vision and the ability to distinguish colors. When the macula becomes damaged, loss of vision occurs.
As people age, they may become vulnerable to macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in the United States. Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) accounts for 90 percent of severe vision loss. Typically affecting people over the age of 60 — most frequently women — AMD causes a decrease in central vision, making it difficult to read and engage in other tasks that require fine discrimination. Distorted vision and the appearance of wavy lines over the visual field may also result from macular degeneration. These symptoms can manifest themselves suddenly or progress gradually over time, depending on whether the condition involves “wet” or “dry” macular degeneration.
Wet (neovascular) macular degeneration, the most advanced form of AMD, occurs when abnormal blood vessels forming behind the macula break, releasing blood and fluid. The pressure created by blood and fluids causes the macula to rise from its proper position in the retina, and sustain severe damage. Symptoms appear rapidly with this form of AMD.
With dry (non-neovascular) macular degeneration, the photoreceptor cells that make up the macula gradually break down, eroding the clarity of a person’s central vision. Blurry vision is the first sign of dry AMD, which may affect one or both of the eyes.
For treatment of wet macular degeneration, the ophthalmologists at Cape Fear Eye Associates offer a number of treatment options including injections of Avastin®, photodynamic therapy, and laser surgery.
Avastin® is used to inhibit the growth of abnormal blood vessels in the retina. By inhibiting growth in this way, we can halt vision loss and, in some patients, even improve vision. Avastin® is preferred at Cape Fear Eye Associates since it can effectively treat wet AMD with fewer injections than similar therapies, such as Lucentis® or Macugen®.
Photodynamic therapy (PDT) also helps to slow down vision loss. By injecting a light-activated drug into the body, our ophthalmologists can target the area of the eye where fast-growing abnormal blood vessels form. Light is then directed into the eyes for a brief period, causing the drug to destroy the abnormal growths without damaging surrounding tissue.
Laser surgery can also destroy abnormal blood vessels to halt vision loss. However, this type of therapy is not appropriate for most AMD patients. Because laser therapy may also affect adjacent tissue, only patients whose abnormal blood vessels have developed away from the center of the macula should undergo this type of treatment. The ophthalmologists at Cape Fear Eye Associates can determine which treatment option is most appropriate for your condition.
There is no treatment currently available to prevent vision loss for patients with advanced dry macular degeneration. However, there are a number of things you can do to delay and even prevent dry AMD from progressing to the advanced stage.
What You Can Do
Recent studies have shown that the risk of developing both the dry and wet forms of age-related macular degeneration can be significantly reduced by taking high-doses of zinc and certain antioxidants at the recommendation of your eye care specialist. Specific formulations are available through the Cape Fear Eye Associates optical shop as well as on-site at our Fayetteville eye center. Current research also indicates that a diet rich in green, leafy vegetables helps to prevent AMD.
Contact Cape Fear Eye Associates Today
Regular eye exams are essential to maintaining the health of your vision and your body. At Cape Fear Eye Associates, your total well-being is our primary concern. To schedule an eye exam, contact our offices in Fayetteville today.