YORK, Pa. — It's not fatal, but dry eye disease can drastically affect your quality of life and if left untreated, can eventually cause vision loss.
In this week's Health Smart, FOX43 spoke to an eye doctor who says prevention is key.
"If you're over the age of 50, you either have dry eye signs or symptoms of dry eye," Dr. Ryan Yealy of Yealy Eye Care said. The main problem? It's not just affecting the older population.
"I have seen 7 or 8-year-olds with the Meibomian gland atrophy of a 70 or 80-year-old," Dr. Yealy said. These are the glands that can become obstructed if dry eye disease is left untreated.
More than 36 million Americans suffer from dry eye disease, which has only been made worse by the digital age we live in. When you are on digital devices, you forget to blink, and this eventually causes dry eyes, Dr. Yealy sayd.
Dr. Yealy also says that doctors now know that the condition is not only a chronic disease, but a progressive one as well. That's why getting routine eye exams is vital, he says, and is something he likens to treating heart conditions.
"You don't treat a heart attack when the patient has a heart attack, you treat them when they have high blood pressure, so they don't build up to that point."
Luckily, there are treatment options for dry eye disease out there.
Dr. Yealy says many of these options are even covered by insurance or Medicare, including several prescription drops, a treatment they perform called Prokera, and what's called "punctal plugs."
"If you're losing tears off your eyes because of evaporation, then we want to keep your natural tears on the eye as long as possible, so we put a plug in that drainage port and your own natural tears stay on your eyes longer," Dr. Yealy explained.
Another treatment, though not yet covered by insurance, is called IPL, or intense pulse light.
"We use pulsations of lights to go over your cheeks and right where the blood vessels start to grow and block your Meibomian glands," he said. The light ultimately shrinks the blood vessels to eliminate any blockage that causes dry eye, he says.
Symptoms of dry eye include itchy, burning eyes, that may appear red or tear excessively. Dr. Yealy says if you have any of these symptoms, call your eye doctor immediately. If you'd like to contact Yealy Eye Care, click here.
For more information about Prokera, click here.