What is dry eye?
When you blink, a clear tear film spreads across the surface of the eye. Good vision is possible because that film keeps the eyes moist and lubricated. Dry eye occurs when tear film abnormalities prevent adequate lubrication of the eyes. Tear film consists of three layers: a mucus layer, an oily layer and a watery layer. Each layer of tear film serves a very specific purpose. The oily layer is the outermost layer, and works to reduce evaporation of tears. The watery layer is what we would normally consider tears. The purpose of the watery layer is the keep the eye clean and to help remove any particulates that may have gotten into the eye. The mucus layer is important as it helps to keep moisture in the eye and gets the tears to stick to the eye. By blinking, the eye is continually cleansing and moistening itself. Dry eye can occur as a natural function of aging; however, it can also be a result of climate, medications and certain systemic diseases.
What are the symptoms of dry eye?
- Scratchy or sandy sensation
- Stinging or burning sensation
- Secretion of mucus
- Intermittent, excessive watering
- Discomfort when wearing contact lenses
What are the causes of dry eye?
The main cause of dry eye is a result of hormonal changes in the body. Hormonal changes that occur during menopause are one of the reasons that women often experience dry eye more frequently than men. Additional disorders and diseases can also cause dry eye to surface, such as autoimmune diseases like lupus. These disorders can affect the lacrimal gland, which is where tears are produced, so the result is a decrease in tear production. Tear production can also be impacted by conditions that decrease corneal sensitivity. Wearing contact lenses, diabetes and surgeries, such as LASIK, can all decrease corneal sensitivity and could potentially cause dry eye as a result. There are also numerous medications that can have a side effect of dry eye. Some of those medications include diuretics for blood pressure, beta blockers for heart and blood pressure, and antihistamines, making it extremely important to talk to your ophthalmologist about all medications that you are taking. Lastly, a dry and windy climate can also result in dry eye. The best way to resolve dry eye in that situation is to limit outdoor exposure. If you are concerned that you may be suffering from dry eye, there are several ways your eye care specialist can test your eyes. Your eye doctor can test your tear production or eye drops can be used to determine how quickly the cornea becomes dry.
What are the treatments for dry eye?
If you are suffering from dry eye, there are a number of different treatment options. Depending on the cause and severity, dry eye may be treated with artificial tears, ointments, eye drops or surgery. Artificial tears are available over-the-counter, without a prescription, and are similar to your own natural tears. Some people may have a sensitivity to the preservatives used in artificial tear drops, so it is important for those individuals to find drops that are preservative-free. Preserving your own, natural tears is another treatment option. As you’ve probably noticed, your nose runs when you cry, which is a result of channels that drain tears from the eyes to the nose. Your eye care professional may temporarily block those channels to attempt to reduce tear loss. Another method for treating dry eyes, particularly in a dry climate, is to use a humidifier to keep the air moist. For individuals with more severe case of dry eye, your ophthalmologist may prescribe a medication to help alleviate the dry eye. Be sure to talk to your eye care specialist if you are irritated by dry eye.