At Elmquist Eye Group, many of our patients ask “Can dry eyes cause glaucoma?” Actually, glaucoma is caused by a buildup of pressure inside the eye, so while dry eye doesn’t cause glaucoma, the two conditions do often occur together. About half of all glaucoma patients also have dry eye syndrome, and both glaucoma and dry eye increase with age. Women are more likely than men to have both conditions.
Many conditions can cause dry eye syndrome. These days, many of us sit in front of a computer screen, an activity that reduces blinking and leads to dry eye. Environmental conditions can also be a factor; if you live or work in a low humidity environment with forced cooling or heating, eyes can quickly dry out and remain dry. Many people have general inflammation of the eyelids that leads to dry eye, or have dry eye as a result of previous eye surgeries or infections. People with rheumatoid arthritis are more prone to dry eye, and certain antidepressant and antihistamine medications can also dry eyes out.
Treating Dry Eye and Glaucoma
Unfortunately, prolonged use of glaucoma eye drops has dry eye as a side effect, which can make treating the two diseases very challenging. Dry eye should definitely be treated to protect the health of the surface of the eye and for patient comfort. Many doctors will only treat the glaucoma, treating it first because it can lead to vision loss. However, the dry eye is often more bothersome to the patient.
At Elmquist Eye Group, we treat the diseases together, using a combination of treatments that we try until we get the best combination for each unique patient. Treatments for dry eye most commonly involve use of artificial tears (eye drops or gels) to lubricate the eye. If you have eyelid inflammation, we usually recommend an eyelid cleansing and use of warm compresses to minimize inflammation.
In cases of severe inflammation, we often prescribe oral medications like doxycycline, to reduce the lid inflammation. While mild steroids can be used to reduce inflammation, these same steroids may cause a further rise in eye pressure in glaucoma patients, so we try to avoid steroid treatments or we closely monitor patients who need this course of treatment.
We will typically also suggest lifestyle changes like using a humidifier or taking frequent computer breaks. In severe cases, we may recommend punctal plugs that block the tears from draining through the tear ducts.
Regarding glaucoma treatments, we often modify the treatment when the patient also has dry eye. Many of our patients have had success with preservative-free glaucoma medications or combination eye drops to treat both conditions.
Two Chronic Conditions
Remember that glaucoma and dry eye syndrome are both chronic conditions. It is very important for patients to seek treatment for both. The remedy is often as simple as eye drops to keep the eyes healthy. Neither dry eye nor glaucoma are curable, but both are definitely manageable, particularly with help from the experts at Elmquist Eye Group. Give us a call today to become our next new patient.