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.