Keeping your eyes on the road

by Karen Bowen

With the cooler fall temperatures, you may already be turning on your cab’s heat to take the chill off. Just the touch of a button can regulate the temperature in your workspace.

Unfortunately, the hot air blowing out your vents can also lead to dry eyes.

Dry eyes occur when the quantity and/or quality of tears – a complex mixture of water, mucus, and fatty oil, which helps keep the surface of your eyes smooth and clear, and helps protect your eyes from infection – doesn’t keep your eye’s surface well lubricated. Tears are essential to maintain eye health; they protect the eyeball and cornea surfaces.

Dry eye, which usually affects both eyes at the same time, can cause: a stinging, burning, itchy, or scratchy sensation; a sticky or stringy mucus discharge in or around the eyes; sensitivity to light; redness and inflammation; the feeling of having something in your eye; an inability to tolerate contact lenses; poor night vision; watery eyes with blurred vision; and/or tired eyes.

According to experts, dry eye affects millions of adults throughout North America, especially if you: wear contact lenses; eat a diet low in Vitamin A (liver, carrots, broccoli) and low in omega-3 fatty acids (fish, walnuts, vegetable oils); are over 50 years of age; and/or are female. It can be caused by increased tear evaporation, reduced tear production, or a chemical imbalance in the tears’ makeup.

As a truck driver, tear evaporation is common – caused by typical environmental and physical factors, like driving with your windows or vents open, or with the heating/cooling system fan running. These force drying air directly into your eyeballs.

As well, intense driving conditions that require extreme concentration reduce your blink rate, reducing the times your eyeballs get moistened.

Sometimes your body may just not produce enough tears, which could be due to aging, or these medical conditions: diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, scleroderma, a thyroid disorder, Vitamin A deficiency, and/or tear duct damage. As well, the side effects of these medications: antihistamines, decongestants, hormone replacement therapies, antidepressants, and drugs for high blood pressure, acne, birth control and Parkinson’s disease are dry eyes.

Or, your tear composition may not be chemically balanced. Since your tear film is composed of three basic layers: oil, water, and mucus, a problem with any layer can cause dry eyes.

One common issue occurs if someone has a skin condition like rosacea or persistently inflamed eyelids, which can cause the small glands on the edge of the eyelids to clog.

Usually occasional dry eye symptoms can be successfully treated with lifestyle changes and/or over-the-counter eye drops, gels or ointments. Wearing wrap-around glasses when driving can protect your eyeballs from blowing air. If selecting over-the counter relief, choose lubricating products (artificial tears) instead of ones that reduce redness, which may further irritate your eyes. Read labels to identify products containing preservatives. These have a longer shelf life, but should only be used up to four times a day to avoid irritation.

Those without preservatives can be safely used more than four times a day. They usually come in a package of multiple single-use packs that should be thrown away after usage.

Although eye drops, gels, and ointments may all relieve dry eye symptoms, lubricating ointments are not recommended when driving. Since ointments do provide longer lasting relief by coating the eyeball, use only before bedtime; ointments reduce vision. Eye drops can be safely used any time; they do not impact vision.

Open clogged ducts by applying a wet, warm washcloth to your eyes for five minutes (rewetting to maintain warmth). Gently rub the cloth over your eyelids and eyelashes to loosen debris. Then, wash your eyelids with a baby shampoo or mild soap and rinse thoroughly.

If your dry eye symptoms persist, visit your doctor to rule out any serious underlying medical condition. Keep your healthy eyes on the road.

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