Dry eyes are suffered by millions of people, for a wide range of reasons.
If your eyes are dry they will feel tired and sore, and they may feel gritty and irritated - symptoms that normally get worse during the course of the day.
As we get older, our eyes produce less tears, so the incidence of dry eyes is prevalent in people aged 50 and over, and is experienced by more women than men.
Dry eyes may be caused by a reduction in the production of tear fluid, or by an imbalance in the tear fluid, for example due to meibomian gland dysfunction.
Why are more and more people suffering from dry eyes?
The incidence of dry eyes is getting worse, as more and more of us are spending longer in artificially dry environments caused by central heating and air conditioning.
The relative humidity in many homes and offices can become very low in the winter season, once the central heating is on constantly.
Other drying environments include the air conditioned cabins of aircraft and trains. Outdoors in cities, the high levels of airborne pollution can also trigger dry eye conditions. For many people, dry eyes are a seasonal affliction, made worse by winter conditions such as cold, drying winds.
Constantly staring at computer screens reduces the blink rate
Another critical factor causing the increased incidence of dry eyes is regular computer use.
More and more people are spending large proportions of their day looking at computer VDU screens and tablets. The trouble is that the eyes tend to get fixated by the screen and your blink rate goes down significantly, with the result that the eye does not get its regular lubrication.
Contact lens wearers often experience dry eyes
You are more likely to suffer from dry eyes if you wear contact lenses regularly.
Dry eyes can be caused by an underlying medical condition or poor diet
Many underlying medical conditions can increase your susceptibility to dry eyes, including Sjögren's syndrome and glaucoma.
Dry eyes can also be triggered by hormonal changes such as those experienced by women during the menopause. It can also be caused by certain medications, including those for treating high blood pressure, and also be exacerbated by poor diet.
Dry eyes can be triggered by medical operationsMany patients experience severe dry eye problems after surgery. For example this is common after laser eye surgery and in patients who have had stem cell transplants.
Can dry eyes be treated?
Unfortunately, there is no cure for dry eye syndrome, although its symptoms can be alleviated. Self help treatments include eye drops and the use of warm compresses to soothe the eyes.
A natural alternative and more cost-effective to eye drops is to wear moisture chamber goggles or "dry eye glasses". This is a specialised type of eyewear that traps moisture around your eyes and reduces the evaporation of tears. Dry eye glasses have been around for years, but have become more sophisticated and effective over the last couple of years, and they are recommended by the NHS as a useful self help aid in coping with dry eye syndrome.