Gritty eyes are a nuisance and reflect our modern way of living and working. We spend more time on screens at work and in our leisure time, often in air conditioned environments. Combining this with poor quality in urban towns and cities, longer contact lens wear and more frequent air travel one begins to understand how our eyes can feel gritty, sore and dry.
Gritty eyes reflect dryness and irritation of the ocular surface. We often don’t realise how important our tears are. It’s obvious that they moisturise the surface of our eyes, but they have other critical functions too. The cornea, the window at the front of the eye, has no blood vessels within it. For most other tissues in the body, a good blood supply is crucial as the cells of the blood carry oxygen and nutrition to the tissues and remove the waste products generated by those tissues. It’s the tears that do this for the cornea (or surface of the eye). We need to produce high-quality tears and enough of them to be able to nourish and moisturise the surface of our eyes.
Having regular breaks from screen work is important. Taking a break is as simple as looking out of the window or into the far distance for a few seconds every 30 minutes or so allowing your focus to readjust and your eyes to blink comfortably. We subconsciously blink less often and increase our tear evaporation by holding our eyebrows up when we are concentrating on our screens.
Supplementing your tears with ‘dry eye drops’ or ‘lubricants’ is very helpful. Using eye drops is the same as using lip balm, or hand cream of your lips or hands are dry or chapped. You can use lubricating drops as much as you like; there is no maximum dose as they are just like natural tears. They are particularly useful if you are flying long haul or you know you will spend all day in an air-conditioned office or meeting.
Unlike a sore knee or ankle, you can’t simply rest your eyes, but these simple steps can make a big difference to how your eyes feel.