Dry Eyes & Aging: What You Need to Know

Aging brings on natural changes that can significantly weaken your eyes. Dry eyes are one of the most common problems older men and women have as they age. With age, our eyes become more sensitive to things like wind and light, and simple changes in our diets, medications, and environments can help soothe the pain and discomfort. If dry eye is left untreated, the cornea can develop ulcers as well as other severe eye problems.

Causes of Dry Eyes as We Age

As we age, our body produces fewer tears than when we were younger. Dry eyes are a very common complaint among older adults. Here are a few of the different causes that influence our dry eyes, especially as we age.

  • Watery Eyes- Ironically, dry eyes can cause watery eyes because the body senses the amount of fewer tears which triggers excessive tearing. This excessive tearing however does not lubricate your eyes it only makes the problem worse.
  • Menopause- Hot flashes, insomnia, vaginal dryness, mood swings, fatigue, headaches are all associated with menopause. However, more than 60% of women experiencing these symptoms are also experiencing dry eyes. A sign of dry eyes, especially during this stage in life can be a signal that something else is wrong inside, like Sjogren’s Syndrome. To learn more about Sjogren’s Syndrome click here.
  • Tear Production- As we age, our eyes naturally slow down the tear production process. Tears are a major protective agent for the eyes. Tears not only wash away dust from our eyes, but also soothe our eyes, provide oxygen and nutrients to the cornea, as well as help defend against eye infections by removing microorganisms that can form communities in our eyes.
  • Medications- This includes some high blood pressure medications, antidepressants, heart medications, antihistamines, decongestants, muscle relaxants, sleeping pills, pain relievers and drugs for Parkinson’s disease and gastric ulcers, and hormone therapy, particularly estrogen therapy will all make your Dry Eye symptoms worse.
  • Certain foods- Chocolate, colas, coffee and tea all contain caffeine, which robs your body of moisture. Try avoiding these foods and drinks if possible.
  • Computer use- Unfortunately as we age and retire, most of us find less things to do outside of the home. Sitting in front of the computer for extended periods of time, whether it’s for work or leisure, can significantly dry your eyes out.

Prevention Measures As You Age

There are a few different things you can do to help prevent the severe symptoms of Dry Eye, regardless of your age. Here are a few examples:

  • Drink Water- Water is a great source, and in many cases it’s free of charge. Drinking water helps to keep your body hydrated, especially if you live in dry, hot or cold locations.
  • Humidifiers- Running a humidifier inside your home can bring a certain amount of moisture into the air, especially if you live in the desert, or in a dry location.
  • Your Location- We understand that many older adults reside in a residence that they have been in for a number of years. But, the environment you live in can play a crucial role when dealing with dry eyes. If you can help it, try living in a location that isn’t dry, dusty, windy or extremely hot or cold. See our list of top dry eye cities.
  • Natural Supplements- Natural supplements such as flaxseed oil and Omega-3 are a great way to help you decrease your dry eye symptoms. Fatty acids are proven to do this. You’ll find that by eating more cold-water fish like salmon, herring, cod and sardines, you’ll be taking in your necessary dosage of Omega-3 fatty acids. Also, staying away from foods and drinks that include caffeine can also reduce your dry eye symptoms, as caffeine is known to rob you of your body’s fluids, and dehydrate you.

Treatment for Your Aging Dry Eyes

There are certain medications, surgical and non-surgical procedures that you and your doctor can discuss if you’re dealing with Dry Eye Syndrome. Here are a few examples:

  • Restasis- Restasis is the first prescription of its kind. It wasn’t until 2002 that the US Drug and Food Administration approved this treatment. It’s generally recommended to people who use artificial tear eye drops frequently without getting long-term symptom relief. This treatment increases the body’s ability to produce its own natural, healthy tears by treating one underlying cause of the disease-inflammation.
  • Silicone Plugs- This is a non-surgical procedure that involves plugging the upper and lower lids where tears drain into your nose. Tiny bits of silicone are placed in these openings to keep your tears in your eyes and helping your eyes from drying out. These plugs can be temporary or permanent, depending on the severity of your symptoms, and the process is painless.
  • Surgery- Surgery is a last resort, and is for people who can take the plugs being inserted into their tear ducts. Instead, the tear ducts are surgically closed.
This article was last updated on 01/2013