You may know that high blood glucose levels over the years can lead to nerve damage and heart disease. You may also know that diabetes can damage the retinas in your eyes. But did you know that diabetes may cause another problem for your eyes called “dry eye”? Diabetes induced dry eye isn’t at all comfortable. Your eyes feel dry and may have a burning sensation or an irritation that gets worse as the day goes on. Dry eye happens because of nerve damage and the loss of feeling on your cornea (the front part of the eye).
WHAT IS DRY EYE?
The first thing that happens when an eye becomes dry is that the tears lose water and become too salty. Just like the stinging and burning that happens when a wound comes in contact with salt, when your tears become too salty they cause stinging and burning in your eye. As eyes become drier, the salt that is left behind makes them feel sandy and gritty.
Dry eye is one of the most common conditions affecting the eyes. This is true regardless of whether you have diabetes. Almost 14 percent of people over the age of 40 have dry eye, and the chances you’ll get it increase as you get older. This is true because there are so many causes of dry eye. Anything that slows down your body’s ability to produce tears or that makes tears dry up may cause dry eye. The ability to make tears can be slowed down by:
- Certain medications such as diuretics, beta blockers and antihistamines; and
- Any condition that decreases sensation on the surface of your eye or makes the eye numb. These can include long-term hard contact lens wear, LASIK eye surgery, certain viral infections of the cornea and diabetes.
- Increased evaporation that causes drying up of your tears can also cause dry eye. This happens when eyes are more exposed to natural causes, such as being outdoors in the wind. It can also be due to eye problems caused by thyroid disease, or the tears lose their protective coating of oil from chronic inflammation in the oil glands of the eyelid.
HOW TO TREAT DRY EYE
There are two ways to treat dry eyes: using eye drops and through your diet.
Eye drops: It used to be that all artificial tear drops were similar. They were designed to cover up the dry spots on the surface of the eye. The problem with many of these artificial tear drops is that they were developed before health care providers knew that dry spots don’t cause dry eye, but are a result of the tears becoming too salty. These drops provide temporary relief of dry eye, but over time they are not a solution for dry eye. More advanced eye drops are available now that actually heal the surface of a dry eye. They actually lower the high salt concentration and act just like human tears.
What you eat: Another way to help keep your eyes from becoming too dry is to eat enough omega-3 fatty acids. In a recent large-scale study it was found that the more omega-3s that were eaten, the lower the risk for dry eye. Omega-3 fatty acids are healthy for your heart because they have been found to prevent blood platelets from clotting and sticking to artery walls, causing them to narrow. They have even been shown to reduce the risk of patients being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. To eat more animal sources of omega-3 fats, eat fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring and tuna. To eat more omega-3 fats from plants, use canola oil, ground flax seeds and walnuts. If you have dry eye, you might even want to use the omega-3 supplement designed for dry eyes found in the eye care section. As always, when you live with diabetes, it’s important to pay attention to the symptoms you feel. So now you know that in addition to getting your annual dilated retinal eye exam, it’s important to report any symptoms of dry eye. Don’t think that dry eyes simply mean you’re tired. If you think you may have dry eye, speak to your health care provider or Walgreens pharmacist to learn more.