What is Dry Eye?
Dry eye is a condition in which there are insufficient tears to keep the eye healthy and comfortable.
People with dry eyes either do not produce enough tears or have a poor quality of tears.
Common causes of dry eyes include:
- Age– This can occur due to hormonal changes that make your eyes produce fewer tears.
- Gender- Although dry eye can occur in both men and women, women are most often affected.
- Medications- Particularly certain cold or allergy medicines.
- Environmental conditions– Wind, smoke, air conditioning.
When we blink, tears are spread across the front surface of the eye creating a tear film. This tear film keeps the surface of the eye smooth and clear. A healthy tear film is necessary for good vision.
The tear film consists of three layers:
- An oily layer;
- A watery layer;
- A layer of mucus.
Each layer serves its own function. The oily layer helps to prevent evaporation of the watery layer, the watery layer cleanses the eye and washes away foreign particles or irritants, and the mucus layer spreads the tears evenly over the surface of the eye and helps it to remain moist. If there are deficiencies with any of these layers, dry eye symptoms can develop.
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Symptoms may include:
- Irritated eyes;
- Gritty or scratchy eyes
- Blurred vision;
- Excess tearing.
The eye uses two different methods to produce tears. One method produces tears at a slow steady rate to maintain normal eye lubrication. The other method produces a large amount of tears in response to eye irritation or emotion. Excess tearing from “dry eye” may sound illogical, but If the tears responsible for maintaining lubrication do not keep the eye wet enough, the eye becomes irritated and responds by producing an excess amount of tears. This overwhelms the tear drainage system and thus causes the tears to overflow from the eye.
Dry eyes can be a chronic condition, but your ophthalmologist can prescribe treatment to keep your eyes healthy, more comfortable, and prevent your vision from being affected. The primary approaches used to manage and treat dry eyes include adding tears, conserving tears, and increasing tear production.
- Adding tears- The first step to manage and treat mild cases of dry eyes is usually adding tears. This can be done using drops called artificial tears. These drops are available over-the-counter and can be used as frequently as needed to supplement natural tear production.
- Conserving tears- If dryness persists, an additional approach to reducing symptoms is to keep natural tears in the eyes longer. Tears drain out of the eye through small tear ducts into the nose (that is why your nose runs when you cry). The tear ducts can be blocked with tiny silicone plugs, allowing your natural tears to stay on your eye longer. These plugs can be removed if needed. A surgical procedure to permanently close tear ducts can also be used.
- Increase tear production- Prescription drops can help increase your eyes natural ability to produce tears. Your doctor will discuss your options and which medications is right for your eyes.
Other helpful steps you can take to reduce symptoms of dry eyes include:
- Purposefully blink more often. Especially when reading or staring at a computer screen.
- Increase the level of humidity in the air at work and home.
- Don’t smoke.
- Using nutritional supplements containing essential fatty acids may help. Ask your ophthalmologist if the use of dietary supplements could be of help for your dry eye problems.