• A photo of a woman putting eye drops to cure dry eyes

What is Dry Eye and How Should You Handle It?

Healthy eyes pro­duce suf­fi­cient high-qual­i­ty tears to keep eyes lubri­cat­ed and nour­ished.  Glands around the eye cre­ate tears that coat the sur­face of the eye and then drain through the tear duct into the nasal pas­sage. When there’s a prob­lem with any part of this process an indi­vid­ual can devel­op dry eye con­di­tion.  Peo­ple with dry eyes may feel as though their eyes are irri­tat­ed, a grit­ty or burn­ing sen­sa­tion, watery eyes or blur­ry vision.  While it can be chron­ic, it’s a com­mon prob­lem with a num­ber of treat­ment options from pre­ven­ta­tive self-care and over the counter treat­ment to pre­scrip­tion and surgery.

High qual­i­ty tears are com­posed of three ele­ments, an oily out­er lay­er to pre­vent tears from dry­ing out quick­ly, a mid­dle lay­er of water to keep eyes moist and an inner lay­er of mucus to spread the tears even­ly over the sur­face of the eye.  If one of these lay­ers is com­pro­mised in qual­i­ty or miss­ing then the tear no longer func­tions effec­tive­ly.  A poor qual­i­ty tear may not even­ly coat the eye, suf­fi­cient­ly lubri­cate, or evap­o­rate from the sur­face of the eye too quick­ly.

The most com­mon type of dry eye is ker­a­to­con­junc­tivi­tis sic­ca (KCS) in which tears do not have an ade­quate watery lay­er when coat­ing the eye.


Even if a per­son has high qual­i­ty tears, a lot of fac­tors can pre­vent the pro­duc­tion of enough tears.  As indi­vid­u­als age, tear pro­duc­tion nat­u­ral­ly decreas­es and most peo­ple over 65 can expect some symp­toms of dry eye. Regard­less of age dry eyes can be caused by a vari­ety of med­ica­tions includ­ing anti­de­pres­sants, anti­his­t­a­mines, decon­ges­tants.  The con­di­tion can also accom­pa­ny anoth­er med­ical diag­no­sis such as thy­roid prob­lems, dia­betes or rheuma­toid arthri­tis.

Oth­er groups at risk of devel­op­ing dry eye are women expe­ri­enc­ing hor­mon­al changes through preg­nan­cy, oral con­tra­cep­tion and menopause.  Peo­ple with long-term use of con­tact lens or who have LASIK eye surg­eries might rec­og­nize these symp­toms or even any­one who spends a lot of time look­ing at a com­put­er, tablet or smart­phone screen.

When eyes expe­ri­ence dry and windy cli­mates the amount of tears an oth­er­wise healthy per­son nat­u­ral­ly pro­duces may prove to be insuf­fi­cient.


If you feel as though you may have dry eyes, an optometrist can diag­nose you through a com­pre­hen­sive exam and test­ing.  They will take your patient his­to­ry to deter­mine if you fall into a group who is more prone to devel­op­ing the con­di­tion and then pro­ceed to a phys­i­cal exam.  The phys­i­cal struc­ture of the eye is eval­u­at­ed as well as the patient’s blink dynam­ics.

Using bright lights and mag­ni­fi­ca­tion the eye­lids and cornea are exam­ined, and then the optometrist mea­sures the qual­i­ty and quan­ti­ty of the tears.  Since it’s nec­es­sary for them to observe the flow of tears and dis­cov­er any changes to the out­er lay­er of the eye, they may use a spe­cial dye to see what is tak­ing place as the tears coat the eye.


Once your doc­tor diag­no­sis the symp­toms as dry eye there are a num­ber of treat­ment options avail­able.  For mild cas­es over-the-counter arti­fi­cial tear solu­tion can be used to aug­ment the amount of tears a per­son nat­u­ral­ly pro­duces.  Use a preser­v­a­tive-free solu­tion to avoid any extra­ne­ous ingre­di­ents that may fur­ther irri­tate the eye.

In cas­es where sim­ply increas­ing the amount of tears in the eye is insuf­fi­cient to improve the con­di­tion, fur­ther action is nec­es­sary.  Pre­scrip­tion eye drops are used to increase the amount of tears pro­duced.  Or block­ing the tear ducts in the eye so tears are no longer allowed to drain and are con­served on the sur­face of the eye.  Tear ducts can be blocked tem­porar­i­ly by a gel or sil­i­cone plug, or per­ma­nent­ly through surgery.  If the cause of dry eye is deter­mined to be inflam­ma­tion of the lids, mas­sage, warm com­press­es and eye­lid clean­ers can all improve the con­di­tion.


Prac­tic­ing self care can also pro­vide relief from dry eyes.  Drink­ing plen­ty of water through­out the day can help your eyes stay hydrat­ed.  Remem­ber­ing to blink reg­u­lar­ly in dry and windy envi­ron­ments, or when star­ing at com­put­er screens.  Also adding essen­tial fat­ty acids to your diet or as nutri­tion­al sup­ple­ments can improve dry eye con­di­tion.  Using a humid­i­fi­er to increase the amount of mois­ture in your home or work will stop the envi­ron­ment from over-tax­ing the amount of tears your eyes can pro­duce.

Regard­less of the cause there are plen­ty of sources for imme­di­ate relief of symp­toms as well as ongo­ing improve­ment of tear qual­i­ty and quan­ti­ty.

October 8th, 2015|Comments Off on What is Dry Eye and How Should You Handle It?

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