Quick Guide to Dry Eyes and Laser Eye Surgery

Updated for 2023

Our eyes represent one of the most incredibly complex parts of the human body. They are the cameras of the natural world, converting light into crisp images that many of us would be lost without. But with this complexity comes a huge amount of components that all need to function correctly in order for our vision to be as effective as possible.

It is therefore crucial that our eyes – much like a precious pearl sitting in a clamshell – have the appropriate protection. Our body has devised a number of natural mechanisms to provide this protection. The tear film, for example, helps to keep our eyes hydrated and prevent them from dying out.

The tear film consists of three layers: an oily layer, a watery layer, and a mucus layer. When these layers are out of balance, we can experience side effects like dry eyes. Dry eye can occur for a number of reasons, the more common being systemic disease, menopause, medications, alcohol, the environment, and, as it happens, Laser Eye Surgery.

In this guide to dry eye and Laser Eye Surgery, we will be exploring the symptoms of dry eye, how it affects Laser Eye Surgery treatment, and vice versa.

Mr Glenn Carp Discusses Dry Eye and Laser Eye Surgery:

Youtube video link

Do you recognise any of these symptoms?

Millions of people experience irritated, itchy, and dry eyes on a daily basis. This cannot only be extremely uncomfortable and inconvenient, but it can also be detrimental to your vision.

Dry Eye may be a symptom of more serious conditions, such as Dry Eye syndrome (DES) or Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca (KCS). However, it is often a multifaceted issue which can make proper diagnosis difficult. For example, dry eyes can also occur as a side effect of several medications, as a result of drinking too much alcohol, or after prolonged screen use.

Dry eyes associated with screen use has a specific name – Digital Eye Syndrome or Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS). This kind of eye dryness can be caused by poor lighting, glare from the screen, improper viewing distance, poor seating posture, or decreased blink rate when using screens.

Other factors that can cause dry eye syndrome include contact lens use, smoking, Sjogren’s syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, Parkinson’s, diabetes, low humidity, and air conditioning.

According to the National Eye Institute, some of the most common symptoms of dry eye are:

  • Episodes of blurred vision;
  • Decreased tolerance to reading, working on the computer, or other activities that require sustained visual attention;
  • Stinging or burning of the eye;
  • A sandy or gritty feeling as if something is in the eye;
  • Episodes of excess tears following very dry eye periods;
  • Eye fatigue;
  • A stringy discharge from the eye;
  • Pain and redness of the eye;
  • Heavy eyelids;
  • Inability to cry when emotionally stressed.

The reality is that many of us experience dry eye symptoms from time to time – particularly if we work or spend a lot of times on computers or other screen devices. However, with only 20 per cent of those suffering from dry eye syndrome being diagnosed correctly, it is worth visiting an eye doctor for a routine checkup if you experience any of the above symptoms regularly.

How dry eye affects suitability for Laser Eye Surgery

If you suffer from dry eye you may be concerned that you will not be suitable for Laser Eye Surgery. But this may not necessarily be the case. In fact, many people with DES are surprised to learn that they have a high chance of being eligible for Laser Eye Surgery.

Dry eye is often a temporary problem that can be greatly influenced by the environment and other factors. The bottom line is that your suitability for Laser Eye Surgery depends on the cause and severity of dry eye.

Patients with pre-operative dry eye go through extensive review in our clinic to evaluate the severity and cause. If your dry eye is temporary or if it is possible to improve the health of the eye’s surface through treatment regimes, then it may be possible to move forward with laser eye surgery.

In the video above, Mr Carp explains how patients with dry eyes undergo an extensive review system at the London Vision Clinic to help with treatment.

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Dry eye as a side effect of Laser Eye Surgery

The nerves in the eye play an important role in the recovery process following Laser Eye Surgery. You see, the corneal nerves in the surface of the eye are responsible for sending information to the lacrimal gland which in turn supplies a continual amount of lubrication to the eye. During Laser Eye Surgery, this process is temporarily interrupted, therefore decreasing the usual amount of lubrication to the eye.

Over the weeks and months following the procedure, these nerves eventually heal and lubrication levels return to normal. A small number of patients – particularly those with pre-existing dry eye syndromes – however, may experience prolonged and/or more significant symptoms.

At clinics that use advanced screening techniques, such cases are extremely unlikely. Our comprehensive screening and consultation process helps us to ensure that every patient receives the appropriate treatment. If a patient with a history of dry eye is found to have a higher risk of prolonged symptoms, other available treatments may still be possible.

As a general precaution, the use of artificial tears is a staple during the recovery period. These are a kind of lubricating eye drops that will be provided by the clinic once your Laser Eye Surgery procedure has been completed. Your Patient Care Coordinator and clinical team will help you to determine when and how often these should be applied.

In cases of more severe dry eye, your clinician may use punctal plugs – also known as tear duct plugs or lacrimal plugs. These devices effectively prevent the drainage of tears from your eyes. They can help to maintain the lubrication of the surface of the eye, just like plugging the drain of a sink. A clinician can remove the plugs at a later time if needed.

Managing and even eliminating dry eye

While dry eye associated with Laser Eye Surgery is usually short-lived, dry eyes can be an irritating part of life for many people. Luckily, there are things you can do to help manage, reduce, and even eliminate dryness without the need for drugs, plugs, or even drastic lifestyle changes:

Seeing an eye doctor

First and foremost, don’t assume that dryness in your eyes is a minor problem that will go away on its own. While it is true that lifestyle and environmental changes can significantly affect eye dryness, it is essential to sit down with a doctor to identify the cause of your dry eye.

This will help to determine whether any prescription medications or conditions are behind the irritation. Of course, it may also be the case that the cause of your dry eyes is nothing more serious than a few too many glasses of wine or a Netflix-binging habit.

Controlling the weather

This might sound a bit daunting at first glance but don’t worry – no one is actually expecting you to control the weather. Instead, just be conscious of what you can do to reduce the amount of wind or air being blown onto your eyeballs.

An easy one first – avoid hair dryers (or at least close your eyes when using them). Hairdryers don’t only produce a powerful airflow, but this air is also hot and dry – a poor combination for already dry eyes. You should also consider turning down heaters and air conditioners in your home and car and pointing them away from your face.

Finally, protect yourself from windy weather. If it’s blustering outside, try wearing a scarf, hat and wrap-around sunglasses to protect your eyes from harsh winds and any debris that may be blown around.

Keeping the air moist

Spending time in a dry environment can also impact the moisture levels in your eyes. The dryer the air, the faster any moisture on the surface of the eyes will evaporate, leaving you with that familiar itchy and irritating sensation.

Investing in a humidifier for your home will help to maintain a good level of humidity. However, you should check with your Laser Eye surgeon as these may not be recommended for a short time following your treatment. You can also consider an air purifier which will help prevent dust particles and other airborne allergens from irritating your eyes.

Giving your eyes a break

A typical day in the 21st century can not only tire our bodies but also our eyes – especially if you work on a screen all day.The fat is, any activity that puts a lot of strain on the eyes can trigger dry eyes. To prevent this, be sure to give your eyes a break every so often.

When you begin to feel your eyes straining (or ideally, before) take a few moments to stop what you’re doing, close your eyes, and gently massage the lids. If you are working at a computer, positioning the screen slightly below eye level and tilting it backwards can allow your eyes to remain more relaxed, reducing the speed of fatigue.

Other ergonomics best practices include adjusting harsh overhead lights, using an ergonomic chair, sitting with the screen 20-26 inches away from you, and adjusting the contrast and brightness of your screen accordingly to your environment.

Another trick to combat eye fatigue is to incorporate the 20-20-20 method into your day. This method involves looking away from your screen every 20 minutes to look at something 20 metres away for at least 20 seconds.

Shedding some fake tears

While there is no substitute for the real thing, lubricating eye drops can be incredibly useful in the battle against dry eye. These are available over the counter at pharmacies and can be used as often as needed. Following Laser Eye Surgery at London Vision Clinic, you will be provided with eyedrops, free of charge!

However, eye drops are far from a permanent solution. In fact, they can become something of a hassle when relied upon over the long term. But in situations when your eyes are more prone to dryness, such as when you’re working to a tight deadline or you’re heading out on a long-haul flight, they can offer much-needed relief.

Moving from contacts to laser

One of the most common causes of dry eye is the use of contact lenses. Therefore, one of the best ways to decrease your chances of experiencing irritation is to stop wearing them. Unfortunately, this may not be a viable option for some people this may not be a viable option.

You may think that ditching contact lenses means swapping them for glasses or going on with your day being unable to see anything. But this isn’t necessarily the case. If your dry eye is a result of wearing contact lenses, you may well still be suitable for Laser Eye Surgery treatment.

Contact lenses suck up the tears on the eye’s surface and can mess with the balance that we talked about earlier. So most people that wear contacts and experience dry eye don’t have dry eye syndrome. Instead, they have contact lens-induced dry eye. The chances that you could be suitable for treatment then, are higher than you might think.

If you have any more questions about dry eye and Laser Eye Surgery, contact one of our friendly clinic coordinators today. Find out if you could be suitable for treatment by booking a consultation at London Vision Clinic.