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Managing Illnesses

Ask the Expert: What’s Dry Eye Disease?

Tired businessman rubbing his eyes
Tired businessman rubbing his eyes

Dr. Richard Maharaj

Medical Director, eyeLABS Optometry & Dry Eye Clinic

Dry eye is one of the most common conditions seen by eye doctors in Canada. If left untreated, symptoms will worsen over time and can cause a major strain on daily comfort and quality of life.

We spoke with Dr. Richard Maharaj, Medical Director of eyeLABS Optometry and Dry Eye Clinic, to find out more about this condition and how your eye care team can help treat it.

Mediaplanet (MP): Generally, how would you explain dry eye?

Dr. Richard Maharaj (RM): Dry eye disease (DED) is a disease of the eye surface and the related protective tearing system. Basically, the tears that bathe your eyes become “sick” both chemically and structurally. Sick tears cannot cover the eye properly or prevent infection and inflammation as efficiently which is why they can feel uncomfortable.

MP: Who is most commonly affected by dry eye and how common is it in Canada?

RM: DED affects slightly more women than men and approximately one in three patients over the age of 50. That being said, we are beginning to see it in younger people — even kids under the age of 18. Lastly, patients with diabetes, arthritis, and those on certain medications can be at higher risk as well.

MP: What are some signs or symptoms that you may have dry eye?

RM: Early signs of DED are very subtle like having to blink to clear your eyes while watching TV or reading. Other more obvious symptoms can include burning, itchy, red eyes, and even excessive watering of the eyes. Although watering seems to be an unusual symptom to have with dry eye, it is actually a compensation of your eye to reflexively tear to address the dryness.

MP: What are the typical treatment options for those who suffer from dry eye?

RM: We treat DED much like we do other chronic diseases, including recommending lifestyle changes, medications, and clinical treatments in your eye doctor’s office. Preservative-free eye drops to support the tears, prescription eye drops, and clinical treatment of the glands in your eyelids are a few critical treatment options.

MP: How will current research affect the future of dry eye treatment options?

RM: Currently, we are examining the impact of digital habits on the meibomian glands of children and teens, as well as looking at new technologies to treat clogged meibomian glands nonsurgically.

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