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What Is a Dry Eye Exam?

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A woman experiencing dry eye syndrome rubbing her right eye.

Most of us know the discomfort of tired, dry eyes after a long day looking at a computer screen or battling seasonal allergies. But for many, this is more than a passing issue—it’s a chronic condition that can make even daily activities a struggle. Your optometrist can help you find relief from dry eye symptoms, and it all starts with a dry eye exam.

During a dry eye exam, we can examine your symptoms to determine the root cause of your discomfort and develop a personalized treatment plan. This assessment is the first step to loving your vision again.

What Is Dry Eye?

Dry eye may seem simple on the surface but is, in fact, quite complex. It occurs when your eyes don’t produce enough tears or when the tears are of poor quality. This imbalance in tear production or composition can lead to discomfort, ranging from a mere gritty sensation to potentially serious visual disturbances.

The underlying causes and risk factors for dry eye are varied but can include:

  • Age
  • Hormonal changes
  • Medications, such as antihistamines, decongestants, or oral contraceptives
  • UV exposure
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Diabetes
  • Thyroid disease
  • Environmental conditions, such as low humidity, wind, or smoke
  • Digital eye strain

All of these factors can affect your tear film. Every time you blink, you cover your eyes with 3 layers of protective moisture. When something disrupts these layers, it can cause your tears to evaporate too quickly. Over 85% of dry eye cases are due to evaporative dry eye, and with over 16 million Americans affected by dry eye, that leaves a lot of people looking for relief.

Dry Eye Symptoms

It’s not uncommon to dismiss dry eye as an innocuous eye strain. However, the effects of chronic dry eye can go beyond simple discomfort and affect all aspects of life.

Dry eye symptoms can vary but commonly include:

  • A stinging or burning sensation in the eyes
  • Stringy mucus around your eyes
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Redness
  • Difficulty wearing contact lenses
  • Blurry vision

You may also notice excess tear production that doesn’t provide relief. How can this be? Our body makes tears in reaction to irritation, and usually, they work great at washing away debris. But if they evaporate too fast, you may still be left rubbing to soothe your dry, itchy eyes.

Dry eye can lead to complications if left untreated, including an increased risk of eye infections and damage to the surface of the eyes, called the cornea.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s important to consult an eye care professional specializing in dry eye.

The Anatomy of a Dry Eye Exam

A dry eye exam goes beyond just checking for tear production. Dry eyes are more complex than they first appear. 

An exam involves not only identifying the physical signs but also evaluating your overall health and lifestyle to create a tailored treatment plan. For example, if you work at a computer all day, this can affect your tears because we tend to blink less while staring at a digital screen.

An exam might include several tests, which can range from simple questionnaires about your symptoms to more complex assessments of your tears’ chemical makeup. This may include using special dyes that help us test how quickly you can produce tears and when they evaporate. We may also use a good, old-fashioned slit lamp exam to observe your eye’s surface directly.

Inflammation and skin conditions can affect your tear glands, and we usually see signs immediately.

These evaluations help us understand the nature of your dry eye. They’re fairly routine and can be done as part of your regular comprehensive eye exam.

Treating Dry Eye Disease

A woman using her laptop beside a humidifier to alleviate dry eye symptoms.

The good news is that optometrists understand more about treating dry eye than we ever have. There are many exciting and effective solutions available to help you see comfortably again.

However, the first line of defense against dry eye often involves simple, at-home remedies and lifestyle adjustments. These may include using a humidifier, practicing the 20-20-20 rule for screen time, adjusting your diet, or protecting your eyes against environmental factors by wearing sunglasses.

Beyond these, your doctor might recommend one of the following treatments.

TempSure Envi Radiofrequency Therapy

A standout among the latest innovations is TempSure Envi radiofrequency (RF) therapy. This non-invasive treatment delivers gentle radiofrequency technology to the eyelids. This helps to stimulate your body’s natural collagen production to open the meibomian glands and release oil essential for healthy tears.

RF therapy can offer prolonged relief and improved tear production, sometimes in as little as just 1 session. Most results appear after about 3–5 sessions, each lasting around 30 minutes.

Eyelid Cleansers

In some cases, the simple act of keeping your eyelids clean can have a significant impact on reducing dry eye symptoms. Eyelid hygiene is paramount, and OcuSoft and ZocuFoam are both cleansers that can help remove dried-up oil, makeup, and dead skin cells.

Omega-3 Supplements

Omega-3 fatty acids are found naturally in fish, nuts, and some plants, but many people use supplements to boost their intake. Incorporating these supplements into your daily routine can often reduce inflammation and improve the quality of the oils in the tear film. Not all omega-3 supplements are the same for effective treatment of dry eye. PRN DE3 is a recommended omega-3 supplement that is specially formulated to treat dry eye. 

Hypochlorous Lid Spray

Non-toxic and natural, hypochlorous acid sprays can offer antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. They come under several brand names but can be a helpful addition to your eye care routine, particularly for patients who have been using drops for a long time and are looking to find balance in their treatment regimen.

Book Your Dry Eye Exam Today

A comprehensive and personalized treatment plan is the key to the successful management of dry eyes. No two cases are alike, and Signature Eye Care can tailor a plan that considers your lifestyle, severity of symptoms, and underlying causes.Don’t wait until dry eye discomfort has become a regular part of your life. Take the proactive step now to book a dry eye exam and invest in the health of this precious sense. Your eyes will thank you.

Written by Dr. Jonathan Knutson

As a Doctor of Optometry, Dr. Knutson’s commitment to patients is his ongoing professional education. He takes pride in staying up-to-date as technology changes to ensure he can provide the latest and greatest care for your eyes. Dr. Knutson enjoys entertaining and is committed to providing a fun and enjoyable experience for his patients. He genuinely cares about his patients, placing utmost importance on the satisfaction of his care and products.
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