Dry eye disease on the rise and affecting younger people, but it can be treated

CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) — Have you ever felt like your eyes are burning or constantly watering? If so, you could be one of the roughly 34 million Americans suffering from dry eyes. But there is hope.

“Dry is really a simple way of saying ‘inflammation,’” said Dr. Shane Swatts, an optometrist, and Owner at Eastern Virginia Eye Associates in Chesapeake.

Dr. Swatts says dry eye disease is on the rise.

“Dry eye is among the most common eye disease that we see on a daily basis, and this is not just in our practice. This is across all eye doctor’s offices.”

It is also impacting more than just the older population.

“We’re starting to see this now in the younger populations that sometimes kids, teens, adults in their 20s and 30s.”

There are many things contributing to the rise in cases of dry eye disease, Dr. Swatts says.

“One of them being increased screen time that we’ve all experienced throughout this pandemic.”

Dr. Swatts also says masks now play a role in what’s called “Mask Associated Dry Eye” or MADE.

“That is simply from the air we breathe coming up into the ocular space and causing the tears to evaporate.”

It’s important to know the symptoms of dry eye like burning, dryness, foreign body sensation, blurry vision, and even tearing.

“Dry eye does not have to do with the amount of tears we’re producing. It has more to do with the quality of tears. We know now that 86% of people who have dry eyes actually do not have a problem producing tears. They have a problem producing oils,” Dr. Swatts said.

Once you start experiencing symptoms, Dr. Swatts recommends seeking treatment as soon as possible.

“Left untreated, it can lead to severe corneal inflammation which can lead to vision loss.”

Dr. Swatts says dry eye can also lead to contact lens intolerance, but he says there are treatment options beyond eye drops. At his practice, he uses a new technology called OptiLight.

“OptiLight is an FDA approved, natural, light-based treatment.”

It’s an in-office procedure Dr. Swatts says can help give you relief. 

“Because we have a Med Spa, we will do a hot towel treatment before, we do some face massage before, so our treatments last anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes. The treatment itself is about 8-10 minutes. So, it’s a simple, quick process.”

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