What is Dry Eye?
Dry eye is a condition in which there are not enough tears to lubricate the front surface of the eye, or the cornea. Our natural tears are extremely important for keeping our vision clear, and for maintaining a healthy ocular surface. Without the proper lubrication, our vision becomes constantly blurred, and our eyes feel constantly irritated. Dry eye is one of the most common disorders seen in the eye doctor’s office. It is a chronic condition that in many cases requires chronic therapy that may be life long.
Our natural tears are made from special glands in and around the eyelids. The function of the tears is to provide lubrication, wash away matter in the eye and keep the surface of the eyes smooth and clear. Once we have excess tears, they are drained into special ducts in our eyelids and eventually into the nasal cavity.
There are two basic causes of dry eye:
1) Insufficient Tear Production
There are many conditions that cause our eyes not to produce enough tears. Age, medications, medical disorders and our surrounding environment may all lead to dry eye. Whatever the cause, when the tear production is not sufficient, the symptoms of dry eye become evident.
2) Insufficient Tear Film
Many people do not know that our tears actually have three layers: oil, water, and mucus. Each of these components is produced by a special set of glands in and around the eyelids. The oil layer sits on top of the water layer and prevents early evaporation of the water layer. The water layer provides nourishment to the front surface of the eye, and finally, the mucus layer allows the tear film to stick to the ocular surface and be evenly distributed. Trouble with any of these components will lead to poor tear film quality and subsequent dry eye.
Symptoms of Dry Eye
- Foreign body sensation – commonly described as a feeling of sand or rocks in the eyes
- Blurry vision that comes and goes on multiple occations
Risk Factors for Dry Eyes
- Medications – antidepressants, antihistamines, oral contraceptives
- Age – As we get older, our eyes produce less natural tears
- Female gender – due to hormonal changes
- Medical problems – Rheumatoid arthritis, Lupus, Diabetes, Thyroid
- Previous eye surgery – LASIK and Cataract Surgery most commonly
- Dry environments
Treatment for Dry Eyes
- Artificial Tears/Gels/Ointments – many over the counter tears are available
- Punctal plugs – painless procedure that plugs the tear drain system
- Restatsis® – A medication that may increase tear production
- Treating Blepharitis
- Remembering to blink while reading
- Moisture chamber goggles
- Natural supplements such as fish oil or flax-seed oil