Dry eye is very common and may be made worse during the winter when the wind blows cold air and when our furnaces pump drier air throughout our homes. Dry spots on the eye develop and cause the watering. Simply, dry eye syndrome results from a decrease in the amount or quality of the eyes’ natural tears. A person suffering from dry eye may report a gritty or scratchy sensation, a blurry “film” over their vision that often clears after a few blinks, and surprisingly, even a watery eye. Although dry eyes rarely cause serious problems, the discomfort dryness creates can have a significant impact on a person’s quality of life.
Our tears, produced by glands found in the mucous membrane lining our eyelids, are actually different layered components. The main component is a water-like layer that keeps the surface of the eye moist. A second layer made of mucus helps the water layer stabilize and adhere to the eye. The third layer is oily and prevents the water layer from evaporating. Together, these three layers form a unique tear formula, comforting our eyes with moisture and lubrication throughout the day and night.
During times of emotional stress and irritation, our eyes produce a different tear. This water-like tear flushes out irritants in the eye, yet it has very limited lubricating ability. Unfortunately, it is a natural reflex for the eye to call upon this watery tear when it detects dryness.
What Causes Dry Eyes?
There are several causes for dryness, but typically combinations of factors create the problem. Dry eyes have been associated with collagen-vascular diseases such as Sjogren’s disease, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis. Many therapeutic drugs including antihistamines, oral contraceptives, and beta-blockers contribute as well. Environmental factors such as heat, wind, smoke, and low humidity also play a role in the development of symptoms. Often, specific activities can cause dry eyes. For example, during prolonged computer use, reading, or driving, the eyelids blink less frequently. As a result, fewer tears get delivered to all areas of the eye.
What is the Treatment for Dry Eyes?
In most cases, dry eyes can be effectively treated with over-the-counter artificial tear supplements. It is recommended to use them on a regular basis, usually one drop every four hours, even if the eyes don’t “feel” dry. Remember, eyes will only feel dry once they have actually become dry and irritated. Frequent use of artificial tears will prevent the eyes from reaching that uncomfortable stage.
If you use the tears and continue to experience dryness or discomfort, there are several treatments your eye doctor can recommend. One effective measure is the use of punctal plugs. These tiny devices prevent eyes from removing tears, thus holding more natural tears against the surface of the eye. To achieve maximum comfort, a combination of the artificial tears and punctal plugs is recommended. These simple steps can make a big difference, especially for contact lens wearers or laser vision correction patients.
Where Can I get More Information?
To determine if someone has dry eyes, an eye doctor performs some simple and efficient tests during the course of a regular exam to detect any tear layer deficiencies that may exist. To schedule an appointment call 414-271-2020.