Going With The Flow
Healthy eyes produce tears from glands to keep the cornea, or surface of the eye, lubricated. These tears flow across the eye and then drain out a duct on the other side. When the eye doesn’t generate enough liquid or tears are of poor quality, dry eye can set in.
There’s more than water in every tear. Drops contain an outer lipid (oil) layer to prevent evaporation and an inner mucus layer to help distribute tears evenly. The watery layer found in the middle is essential for hydration and plays a vital role in proper eye function.
Every blink sends tear film across the cornea to remove foreign objects and prevent dryness. The liquid also delivers oxygen and nutrients to keep the eye nourished with an antibacterial enzyme to prevent infection. Since the cornea plays an important role in focusing light, tear film also helps promote clear vision.
Several factors can lead to dry eye. Age is perhaps the most common factor, with the risk of the condition increasing in individuals over 50. Environmental irritants such as wind, smoke, pollution, and dry air also play a role. In this digital era, prolonged exposure to electronic devices can quickly dry out the eye. Certain types of medication may weaken tear quality, and some diseases have been known to have a similar effect.
When tears don’t work
When dry eye first takes hold, a series of symptoms can appear. The most common experiences involve redness in the eye, watery eyes, itchiness, stinging, or a burning sensation, sensitivity to light, feeling like something is in the eye, stringy mucus in or around the eye, and blurry vision.
The problems don’t stop there
While the immediate consequences of the condition are frustrating, the dangers of untreated dry eye are far worse. Both dryness and excessive tearing caused by dry eye may lead to difficulty seeing clearly when performing daily tasks. The cornea is vital to focusing light, and irritation from dry eye can make doing so all but impossible.
If the eye stays increasingly dry, patients run the risk of corneal infection or swelling. Open sores known as ulcers can also develop, and the eye becomes more susceptible to scratches and scarring. Any one of these issues can permanently affect vision when not taken care of.
Taking care of dryness
Individuals dealing with dry eye should consult an optometrist or ophthalmologist for treatment. In mild cases, using artificial tear drops can curb the issue and restore proper eye function. Eyelid massages or warm compresses can help reduce inflammation hindering proper tear flow. More severe cases may require eye drops that promote tear production or lipid generation to keep tears from evaporating.