Dealing With A Visual Desert

Dry eye occurs when tears aren’t enough to provide adequate lubrication to the eye. Without a smooth coat of tear film, the eye has trouble functioning as usual. As a result, individuals can experience a burning sensation, light sensitivity, or blurry vision. Roughly 16 million Americans have dry eye, making the disease fairly common among the population.

It’s okay to cry

The eye produces three layers that make up tear film. On the inside, a mucus layer allows the liquid to spread evenly over the eye. In the middle is the water layer to lubricate the eye, and the outer lipid layer presents evaporation. If any layer isn’t functioning properly, dry eye can occur. Environmental and lifestyle factors often play a significant role in the appearance of the condition. Medications and medical conditions can also increase risk for the disease.

Looking through a cloud

Cataracts occur when the eye’s natural lens becomes cloudy. This lens accounts for approximately 33% of the eye’s focusing power and should be clear for light to pass through. When clarity is compromised, the change affects normal vision. Patients with cataracts often deal with blurry vision, sensitivity to bright light, and colors appear faded.

Cataracts making an appearance

In most cases, cataracts appear gradually and over time. The disease is much more common in older individuals and can take upwards of 15 years to mature. People experiencing trauma to the eyes or face can develop cataracts regardless of age. While taking measures to stay healthy may slow cataract growth, there’s no way known way to prevent the ailment from forming.

Are dry eye and cataracts a team?

If untreated, dry eye can lead to infection, inflammation, or erosion of the cornea (surface of the eye). Each of these issues can lead to serious side effects that can permanently affect vision. Even in a worst-case scenario, dry eye has been shown to have no impact on the lens. Therefore, dry eye is not a contributing factor to the formation of cataracts. Although not linked, patients can have both diseases at the same time.

Am I stuck with these diseases?

Fortunately, patients experiencing dry eye and cataracts at the same time can have both conditions treated. For dry eye, an eye doctor may recommend artificial tears or warm compresses to keep the corneal surface moist. Plugs can also be used to close tear ducts, giving tears more time to rest on the eye. As long as the cornea is healthy enough, surgeons can perform cataract surgery even when dry eye is present.

Keep an eye out for dryness after surgery

Cataract surgery begins with a small incision on the cornea, through which the ophthalmologist removes the cloudy lens. In a small number of cases, this can disrupt tear film production and lead to dry eye after the procedure. Dry eye caused by cataract surgery usually only lasts a few weeks or months. Anyone with the condition beforehand may continue to experience dry eye beyond this time frame.