What is dry eye?
Dry eye is a common condition in which there is a deficiency in the quantity and/or quality of tears produced by your eyes. Tears are a combination of oil, water, and mucus that help protect your eyes and keep them clear and shielded from infection. Tears flow gently across the cornea every time you blink, providing nourishment and overall liquid protection from the elements of the environment. With a condition such as dry eye, tears are either inadequate or of poor quality, compromising the health and vision of the eye.
What are dry eye symptoms?
Dry eye symptoms, which usually affect both eyes, may include:
- A stinging, burning or scratchy sensation in your eyes
- Stringy mucus in or around your eyes
- Eye redness
- Sensitivity to light
- A sensation of having something in your eyes
- Difficulty wearing contact lenses
- Difficulty with nighttime driving
- Watery eyes, which is the body’s response to the irritation of dry eyes
- Episodes of blurred vision
- Eye fatigue
What causes dry eye?
For some people, the cause of dry eyes is decreased tear production which may include:
- Certain medications, including antihistamines, decongestants, hormone replacement
therapy, antidepressants, and drugs for high blood pressure, acne, birth control, and
- Certain medical conditions, including diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, scleroderma, Sjogren’s syndrome, thyroid disorders, and vitamin A deficiency
- Tear gland damage from inflammation or radiation
- Laser eye surgery, though symptoms of dry eyes related to this procedure are usually temporary
For others, the cause of dry eyes is increased tear evaporation which may include:
- Exposure to wind, smoke, or dry air
- Blinking less often, which tends to occur when you’re concentrating, for example, while reading, driving, or working at a computer
- Eyelid problems, such as out-turning of the lids and in-turning of the lids
Sometimes dry eye is caused by an imbalance in the makeup of your tears. The tear film has three basic layers: oil, water, and mucus. Problems with any of these layers can cause dry eyes.
Pay attention to the situations that are most likely to cause your symptoms. Then find ways to avoid those situations in order to prevent your dry eye symptoms. For instance:
- Avoid air blowing in your eyes. Don’t direct hair dryers, car heaters, air conditioners or fans toward your eyes.
- Add Moisture to the air. In winter, a humidifier can add moisture to dry indoor air.
- Consider wearing wraparound sunglasses or other protective eyewear. Safety shields can be added to the tops and sides of eyeglasses to block wind and dry air.
- Take eye breaks during long tasks. If you’re reading or doing another task that requires visual concentration, take periodic eye breaks. Close your eyes for a few minutes. Or blink repeatedly for a few seconds to help spread your tears evenly over your eyes.
- Be aware of your environment. The air at high altitudes, in desert areas, and in airplanes can be extremely dry. When spending time in such an environment, it may be helpful to frequently close your eyes for a few minutes at a time to minimize evaporation of your tears.
- Position your computer screen below eye level. If your computer screen is above eye level, you’ll open your eyes wider to view the screen. Position your computer screen below eye level so that you won’t open your eyes as wide. This may help slow the evaporation of your tears between eye blinks.
- Stop smoking and avoid smoke. If you smoke, ask for help devising a quit-smoking strategy that’s most likely to work for you. If you don’t smoke, stay away from people who do. Smoke can worsen dry eyes symptoms.
- Use artificial tears regularly. If you have chronic dry eyes, use eyedrops even when your eyes feel fine to keep them well-lubricated.
For most people with occasional or mild dry eye symptoms, it’s enough to regularly use over-the-counter eyedrops (artificial tears). Other simple treatments can include using a warm moist compress or applying a lubricating ointment at bedtime. If your symptoms are persistent and more serious, you have other options such as prescription eye drops and medications, or in extreme situations, surgical procedures. In some cases, treating an underlying health issue can help clear up the symptoms of dry eyes.
Since there are so many possible causes and contributing factors for dry eye syndrome, we work with each patient individually to identify the best options for treatment.