Living in the dry climate of the prairies, especially in the winter months, can cause a disorder of the eyes with a list of symptoms ranging from dull to sharp pain, itchy discomfort, uncontrollable watering and obscured vision.
Anyone experiencing any of these symptoms, singularly or in combinations, may have what is called dry eye. The name might sound simple, but it’s a very real condition that affects many people in mid-western Canada.
Though dry eye can be mildly to severely bothersome, there are different ways to help treat it.
“Dry eye is, of course, an eye condition, and I guess a non-curable kind of eye condition, where eyes can feel scratchy, gritty and you don’t feel you can see as good or you don’t see as good,” said Lloydminster optometrist, Dr. Jade Ulmer.
“It’s actually pretty pronounced, especially in Alberta and the prairies with our very dry climate. And as an optometrist, we can help make the eyes feel better either by prescribing drops or doing some other kinds of therapies to make people more comfortable with their eyes.”
The condition is mostly due to climate, but it can also be hormonal and certain medications can also be contributing factors, so it’s recommended a person gets checked out to see if there are any non-climate related causes that can be worked out.
Ulmer often prescribes different types of eye drops, from over the counter artificial tears to stronger steroid or allergy drops. For more severe cases, they may put punctal plugs directly into the drainage system of the eye so that the tears produced stay in the eye for longer.
“If we let dry eyes go unmanaged and untreated and it’s getting up to that moderate to severe stage that your eyes are extremely dry, the cornea as well as the other tissues, they need the tears to survive a little bit, so that can fully scar things up,” said Ulmer.
Elizabeth Williams, who has had dry eye for about a year and a half, says the condition makes her eyes run almost constantly and it now affects her day-to-day activities.
“My eyes run and I when say run, I mean run right down my face,” she explained. “If I want to read something, it’s blurry and sometimes you’re extra tired.”
She’s been prescribed eye drops and also puts warm poultices over her eyes to alleviate the irritation but says this only helps a little and for just a short while.
The condition has sent her to the local optometrist and now she’s even having to go further away to seek help.
“I’ve gone to see Dr. Jade and I’ve gone several times to see the specialist from (North) Battleford and I’m going to see a specialist at the medical centre in Saskatoon next month,” she said.
Unfortunately, it’s a lifelong condition and the best you can do is find therapies that work and keep up with them when you can. Or if you’re not one for sentiment, there is one more permanent solution.
“A lot of times too, if I could, I’d prescribe all of my patients to move to Hawaii,” joked Ulmer. “None of us would have any of these issues if we lived in a nice moderate climate like Hawaii.”