Most people experience an occasional bit of dryness in one or both of their eyes. Frequently, this is a minor occurrence that is easily taken care of at home. However, there are times when you need to get the help of an eye care expert because you have a more significant problem known as dry eye disease.
What is Dry Eye Disease?
Dry eye disease, also called dry eye syndrome, is a disorder that impacts your eyes, causing a significant reduction in the quantity and quality of your tears. The lack of lubrication will wreak havoc with your eyes and greatly affect your vision and how your eyes feel. Unfortunately, there are a host of dry eye symptoms. You may experience several or just a few.
What are Some Dry Eye Disease Symptoms?
Because there are numerous indicators, it is essential to pay attention to your dry eye symptoms so you can share changes or new developments with your doctor. The most frequently reported issues from dry eyes include,
A sensation of having something in your eyes
A stinging, burning or scratchy sensation in your eyes
Blurred vision or eye fatigue
Difficulty wearing contact lenses
Difficulty with nighttime driving
Sensitivity to light
Sticky eyes, primarily upon waking
Stringy mucus in or around your eyes
Watery eyes, which is the body’s response to the irritation of dry eyes
Are Certain People Predisposed to Dry Eye Syndrome?
While anyone at any age can contract dry eye disease, several groups experience dry eyes more frequently than others.
aged 50 or above
exposed to smoke, wind, or dry air
suffer from an autoimmune condition such as lupus, Sjogren’s syndrome, scleroderma, or rheumatoid arthritis
take certain medicines like antihistamines, decongestants, antidepressants, hormone replacement therapy, high blood pressure medication, or birth control medication. There are also links between medicines for Parkinson’s Disease and dry eye syndrome
use a computer or other screen for prolonged periods
wear contact lenses
What Causes Dry Eyes?
To fully understand what causes dry eyes, it is necessary to learn a little about the eye and tears.
Tear production starts in the lacrimal gland, which is on the outer portion of your upper eyelids
When you blink, tears come from the glands and coat the surface of your eye
Your tears drain out of your punctum and into the canals, then down into your nasal cavity through the lacrimal sac and nasolacrimal duct
Our tears are composed of three different layers, each having a specific function. These are,
The Oily Layer – This layer makes the tear surface smooth and keeps tears from drying up too quickly
The Water Layer – The water layer cleans the eye and removes particles that should not be in the eye
The Mucin Layer – The Mucin Layer spreads the tears evenly across the eye and helps the tears to stay on the surface of the eye
As long as you produce a sufficient amount of tears made of the three layers in correct proportions, you should not experience dry eye symptoms. Problems with dry eye syndrome occur when the balance is disrupted.
Factors that Lead to Dry Eye Symptoms
Decreased Tear Production – The medical term for reduced tear production is keratoconjunctivitis sicca, and it has several origins. These causes include aging, eyelid inflammation, autoimmune disorders, corneal nerve desensitivity, medications, and nerve damage.
Evaporative Tear Loss – You may experience a faster rate of tear evaporation if you are not producing adequate amounts of the oily layer of tears. This often happens when the meibomian glands, which make the oil, are blocked. Other factors that contribute to faster-than-normal evaporation include exposure to wind and smoke, eyelid problems, eye allergies, or infrequent blinking
Can I Get a Dry Eye Treatment?
There are several dry eye treatments available that can offer a great deal of relief for those who have dry eye disease. Unfortunately, there is no cure for the disorder. Some of the medical treatments include,
Prescription eye drops – These can help relieve irritation and keep the surface of your eyes moist
Surgical intervention to open blocks preventing tear production
Insertion of plugs into the tear ducts to prevent excessive loss of tears
Treatment for inflammation of the eyelids, medically known as blepharitis. Such treatments can include antibiotics and using a special cleansing agent on the eyelids. Blepharitis is often a chronic eye condition and will need repeated treatments over time. It generally cannot be cured because the bacteria causing inflammation are naturally occurring.
There are also non-medical treatments your doctor may suggest, such as,
Using over-the-counter artificial tears to ease dry eye discomfort
Making a point to blink more often and to take short breaks when using computers, reading, or driving
Increasing the humidity in your home or office by placing bowls of water in various locations to evaporate and add moisture to the air
When Should I See a Doctor About Dry Eye Symptoms?
While it is fine to try and get some relief from symptoms at home, you should make an appointment with an eye specialist for dry eye treatment if,
Your dry eye symptoms are keeping you from carrying out your regular activities
Your at-home dry eye treatments are not giving you relief
You are experiencing persistent discomfort
Dealing with dry eye disease symptoms can be a challenge. However, you do not need to face the challenge alone. Our caring and supportive staff at E Eye Place have treatment options to address your dry eye causes. If you would like more information about this or other eye care topics, feel free to contact us. Eye issues will not go away on their own or suddenly get better overnight. You need the assistance of one of our experts to keep your vision clear.
Stephanie is an owner optometrist, researcher and educator. She has held clinical, teaching and research roles in Australia and overseas, and has extensive training and clinical experience. Stephanie is also the head optometrist at E Eye Place, on top of this, she is also currently a PhD candidate at UNSW. Dr Stephanie Yeo Optometrist BOptom (HC1) GradCertOcTher DOPT (Merit) CO Ophthalmic Medicines Prescriber.