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Mayo taking aim at dry eye

FAIRMONT — We use our eyes every moment we are awake. With the exception of a periodic vision exam, we rarely think about their health.

Instances of irritation or blurred vision are chalked up to tiredness or the need for new glasses, but these might be symptoms of ocular surface disease, a chronic condition more commonly called dry eye disease.

Dr. Anna Kitzmann, ophthalmologist, and Dr. Robert Friese, optometrist, at Mayo Clinic Health System eye services department in Fairmont are on a mission to educate people about dry eye disease, which they estimate affects 80 percent of people.

“It’s very prevalent,” Kitzmann said.

“It’s a comprehensive complex disease, and it can effect anybody and everybody,” Friese said.

Three new pieces of technology to treat dry eye disease recently were added to Fairmont Mayo’s eye services department. The Lipiflow helps open glands that produce the oils that make up a protective layer of your tears. The Keratograph is an imaging device that displays the location and severity of any blockage in tear glands. The Blephex is a device with soft tips that removes debris from the eyelids and lashes.

Kitzmann and Friese spent about two years researching the equipment that would best serve their patients, who previously had to travel to Sioux Falls or the Twin Cities for treatment with the cutting-edge technology.

The Fairmont Community Hospital Foundation purchased the equipment for the eye services department. For the past 30 years, the foundation has filled funding gaps by purchasing large and small gifts that improve the patient experience on the medical campus.

“This would never have happened without the generosity of the Fairmont Community Hospital Foundation,” Kitzmann said.

“We’re always looking for a better tool, and the foundation provided it,” Friese said.

If you are one of those people who gets squeamish when something touches your eye, the new machines are non-invasive.

“We don’t poke or prod,” Friese said.

This can be verified by the eye services department staff who have served as test patients on the machines. This enables them to share their first-hand experiences with actual patients.

Before dismissing the possibility that you might have dry eye disease, the vision specialists want you to know that a person blinks about 18 times per minute to keep healthy eyes lubricated. People using an electronic device such as a cell phone, tablet or computer only blink about four times per minute.

Tear glands produce oil, water and mucus that lubricate your eyes. Dry eyes is a common condition that occurs when your tears are not able to adequately do that. Ironically, watery eyes also is a symptom.

“If the surface of the eye is irritated, it will water,” Friese explained.

Dry eye disease can be caused by aging, certain medical conditions such as diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis, certain medications such as birth control or high blood pressure drugs, and tear gland damage from blinking less often. If left, untreated, severe dry eyes may lead to eye inflammation, abrasion of the corneal surface, corneal ulcer and vision problems, making it difficult to perform everyday activities, such as reading or even watching television.

The two eye specialists partner their knowledge when treating dry eye disease patients. They believe sharing patients leads to a better outcome.

Their goal when treating patients is to improve and maintain.

“There’s no quick resolution. It takes time. You didn’t get this way overnight,” Friese said.

He cautioned against overuse of eye drops, which can provide temporary relief but do nothing to resolve underlying problems.

“It’s like putting your car in park and stepping on the gas until your engine blows. I’d like to catch it before the engine blows. Instead of reactionary, be proactive,” Friese said.

For a consultation, those interested may call the Mayo eye services department at (507) 238-4311.

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