Children tend to have more difficulty articulating symptoms of dry eyes and may be more likely to suffer silently or let an easily treatable condition progress.
Dr. Alexandra Williamson, OD, of Children’s Eye Care explains that dry eyes are typically the result of a child not producing enough tears or of producing poor quality tears. Sties often develop when the meibomian glands that line the edge of the eyelid become clogged.
“In kids, we see this clogging manifest in the form of crustiness or, more seriously, development of a sty,” Dr. Williamson says. “Essentially, the underlying cause of dry eyes and sties is the same. Eyelid inflammation is at play, and in children it tends to be underdiagnosed and thus undertreated.”
Addressing the underlying inflammation is the goal of treatment in both circumstances, which for dry eyes may include drops or an anti-inflammatory medication. In the case of clogged glands, the treatment plan typically includes a hyper focus on lid hygiene using baby shampoo to wash away debris and warm compresses to help the oil in the meibomian glands flow more freely. Surgical intervention may be called for if a developed sty doesn’t respond to these measures.
“But conservative treatment is always our first recommendation,” Dr. Williamson says.
Parents may also want to consider limiting screen time to help keep symptoms of dry eye at bay. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than two hours of screen time per day.
“There is some evidence that tear film quality is poorer during visually demanding tasks,” Dr. Williamson explains. “This can include activities like driving, reading or looking at a computer screen. Typically, we blink every two to three seconds. When we are concentrating, it’s more like every 30 seconds.”