Your eyes make tears all day, every day. They serve several purposes, like helping flush away dirt or debris, helping prevent infections, and keeping your eyes moist and comfortable. When all is well, you seldom think about the moisture level of your eyes.
However, when your eyes do not make sufficient tears or when your tears evaporate too fast, you can develop a condition known as dry eyes or dry eye disease (DED). According to recent studies, around 85 per cent of Australians have experienced some form of dry eyes, and 700 million people experience it globally.
What are Dry Eyes?
Healthy eyes have three layers of tears called tear film. The film covers and protects your eyes. Additionally, the tear film helps the eyes feel comfortable and see clearly. While the name of the problem, dry eye, sounds like a simple issue with a straightforward approach to curing it, the fact is there are several types of dry eye disease. These include:
Aqueous Deficient Dry Eye: You will experience this type of dry eye disease when the gland in the upper outer corner of your eyes (the lacrimal gland) does not produce enough aqueous tears. Aqueous tears make up the middle layer of your tear film.
Evaporative Dry Eye: When your tears evaporate too fast, you may have an evaporative dry eye. This happens when the meibomian gland does not make enough of the outermost layer of the tear film. The outer layer is oily and, when functioning well, keeps the watery layer from evaporating.
Mixed Dry Eye: This form of dry eye happens when aqueous dry eye and evaporative dry eye occur at the same time. Both lead to dry eye.
Dry Eye Symptoms
When there is a problem with tear production, you can experience several symptoms. While not all dry eye patients will experience all possible symptoms, it is not uncommon to have several at the same time.
A scratchy, gritty, or sandy sensation
Burning or stinging
Feeling sensitive to light
Blurred or changed vision
Mucus that comes out of your eye
Watery eyes, with excess tears running down your cheeks (This symptom may seem counterintuitive, but it occurs when there is not enough of the oily outer layer of the tear film. The middle watery layer evaporates because the oily layer is not there to prevent it. In turn, your eye tries to compensate for the quick evaporation by making extra tears. The tears are not able to keep the eye moist without the oily layer of the tear film.)
Dry Eye Causes and Treatment
One of the first questions people ask about is how to treat dry eyes. The treatment will depend on the cause and symptoms the patient experiences.
Several underlying issues speak to the question, “What causes dry eyes?”
Medications: Several common medications can lead to dry eye. Talk to your eye care professional if you take medication to manage depression, allergies, blood pressure, glaucoma, menopause, and pain.
Medical Conditions: Several medical conditions are linked to dry eye. Endocrine conditions such as diabetes, neurological problems, and autoimmune disorders are a few that, along with various eye diseases, can contribute to dry eye.
Lifestyle and Environmental Conditions: There is an increased risk of dry eye if you spend a great deal of time in front of a computer or other screens. Weather, contact lens use, smoking, or allergies can increase your risk of dry eye.
Goals of Treatments for Dry Eye
The course of dry eye treatment you will undergo will have several goals. In addition to finding a way to treat the underlying cause, your eye care professional will work on easing your symptoms, helping you see, soothing your eyes, and protecting against damage to the surface of your eyes.
The treatments are numerous and have high success rates. The treatment you would get from your eye care professional includes:
Therapeutic contact lenses lubricate the surface of your eyes and guard against damage to the corneas
Punctal occlusion is a treatment where a plug is placed in your tear duct to hold in tears and maintain moisture
Thermal pulsation therapy is a good choice for patients with evaporative dry eyes. Thermal pulses gently warm and massage the glands so they produce the oily outer layer of tear film
Professional Advice for At-Home Symptom Control
Your eye care professional may suggest one or more of the following at-home treatments to soothe your eyes and prevent damage.
Allow your eyes to rest and take breaks if working in front of the computer
Place moist, warm compresses on your eyes for ten minutes at a time
Remind yourself to blink often when reading or doing computer work to increase your tear production
Use a humidifier in your bedroom to keep your eyes comfortable
Avoid triggers in the environment such as cigarette smoke, air vents blowing toward your face, wind in your face and allergens.
Wear wrap-around sunglasses to protect your eyes from wind and sun
Numerous types of eye drops may help. Check with your eye care provider to find out the best eye drops for you
In our fast-paced world, taking the time to book an appointment with an eye care professional can easily be brushed to the side. However, you owe it to yourself to make the time to discuss any issues you may experience, especially if you are bothered by dry eye. The team here at E Eye Place are experienced in assisting patients with a variety of vision issues. There are various ways to treat dry eye; you do not need to be miserable. Contact E Eye Place to make your appointment with one of our skilled vision professionals. Better sight is closer than you may think.
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.