What Is Dry Eye?
Dry eye is a common ocular condition and a major reason for visits to ophthalmologists.
It is a condition in which the eyes do not produce enough quality tears to lubricate and nourish the eye. Tears are necessary for maintaining the health of the front surface of the eye and for providing clear vision.
Causes and risk factors
Dry eyes can occur when tear production and drainage are not in balance. People with dry eyes either do not produce enough tears or their tears are of a poor quality:
- Inadequate amount of tears. Tears are produced by several glands in and around the eyelids. Tear production tends to diminish with age, with various medical conditions or as a side effect of certain medicines. Environmental conditions, such as wind and dry climates, can also decrease tear volume due to increased tear evaporation. When the normal amount of tear production decreases or tears evaporate too quickly from the eyes, symptoms of dry eye can develop.
- Poor quality of tears. Tears are made up of three layers: oil, water, and mucus. Each component protects and nourishes the front surface of the eye. A smooth oil layer helps prevent evaporation of the water layer, while the mucin layer spreads the tears evenly over the surface of the eye. If the tears evaporate too quickly or do not spread evenly over the cornea due to deficiencies with any of the three tear layers, dry eye symptoms can develop.
Who is at Risk for Dry Eyes?
Anyone can have dry eyes; however, some persons are more likely to develop this condition more than others. Persons who are at a higher risk of developing dry eyes include:
- Those over the age of 50
- Those with certain medical conditions such as diabetes, thyroid disease, vitamin A deficiency, systemic lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, and Sjogren’s Syndrome
- Those taking certain medications such as antidepressants, diuretics, antihistamines, and hormone replacement therapy
- Those who have had laser refractive eye surgery
- Those who have had damage to their tear glands from radiation, inflammation, or tumour
Dry Eye Symptoms
- Sandy or gritty feeling
- Scratchy or foreign-body sensation
- Frequent blinking
- Mattering or caking of the eyelashes (usually worse upon waking)
- Blurry or fluctuating vision (made worse when reading, computer, watching television, driving, or playing video games)
- Light sensitivity
- Eye pain and/or headache
- Heavy eye lids
- Eye fatigue
While there are numerous symptoms one can experience, prominent amongst these symptoms is tearing; naturally, a patient may wonder why their eye can be “dry” despite producing plenty of tears. This is because the unhealthy tear film and the irritation that comes from it stimulates the brain to produce a wave or reflex of tears to help counteract the irritation. However, this reflex tearing is simply insufficient to correct the overall problem.
Dry Eye Diagnosis
An ophthalmologist is usually able to diagnose dry eye by examining the eyes and performing certain tests as necessary.
Dry Eye Treatment
Depending on the cause of your Dry Eyes the following are available Treatment Options:
- Adding tears. Mild cases of dry eyes can often be managed using over-the-counter artificial tear solutions. These can be used as often as needed to supplement natural tear production. Preservative-free artificial tear solutions are recommended because they contain fewer additives, which can further irritate the eyes. Artificial tears offer temporary solution and need to be used often.
- Conserving tears. Keeping natural tears in the eyes longer can reduce the symptoms of dry eyes. This can be done by blocking the tear ducts through which the tears normally drain. The tear ducts can be blocked with tiny silicone or gel-like plugs that can be removed if needed. Or a surgical procedure can permanently close the tear ducts. In either case, the goal is to keep the available tears in the eye longer to reduce problems related to dry eyes.
- Increasing tear production. Your ophthalmologist can prescribe eye drops that increase tear production. Taking an omega-3 fatty acid nutritional supplement may also help.
- Treating the contributing eyelid or ocular surface inflammation. Your ophthalmologist might recommend prescription eye drops or ointments, warm compresses and lid massage, or eyelid cleaners to help decrease inflammation around the surface of the eyes.
You can take the following steps to reduce symptoms of dry eyes:
- Remember to blink regularly when reading or staring at a computer screen for long periods of time.
- Increase the humidity in the air at work and at home.
- Wear sunglasses outdoors, particularly those with wraparound frames, to reduce exposure to drying winds and the sun.
- Nutritional supplements containing essential fatty acids may help decrease dry eye symptoms in some people. Ask your doctor if taking dietary supplements could help your dry eye problems.
- Avoiding becoming dehydrated by drinking adequate amounts of water each day.
- Avoid air getting blown in your eyes by directing car heaters/air conditioning away from your face.
- Avoid environments that are drier than normal, such as deserts, airplanes, and places at high altitudes.
Our Ophthalmologist at AB Vision Eye Care can provide a comprehensive assessment and management for dry eyes as well as other eye conditions. Call our offices today to schedule an appointment and learn more about your dry eye condition.