Dry eye is a common condition that occurs when the eyes are insufficiently moisturized, leading to itching, redness and pain from dry spots on the surface of the eye. The eyes may become dry and irritated because the tear ducts don't produce enough tears, or because of a chemical imbalance in the tears.
Patients with this condition often experience irritating symptoms and which may result in more serious damage to the vision if the condition is left untreated. It is important for patients with this condition to take special care of their eyes in order to alleviate symptoms and prevent complications. Your doctor can diagnose dry eye after a thorough evaluation of your eyes and tear production with a Schirmer tear test.
Causes of Dry Eye
People usually begin experiencing dry eye symptoms as they age, but the condition can also result from certain medications, conditions or injuries. Dry eye tends to affect women more often than men, due to the hormonal changes that take place during pregnancy or menopause. Oral contraceptives can also affect the consistency of tears. Dry eye is more common in people over the age of 50. Other causes of dry eye may include:
- Medication such as antihistamines, decongestants, blood pressure medication and antidepressants
- Medical conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes
- Environmental conditions such as smoke, wind, air conditioning and dry climates
- Long-term contact lens use
- Eye surgery
- Sun exposure
- Smoking or second-hand exposure to smoke exposure
- Sjogren's syndrome
- Thyroid eye disease
- An eye injury
- Eyelid surgery
- Inflammation of the conjunctiva
- Exposure keratitis
These factors can affect the frequency or consistency of tears, both of which can lead to dry eyes. Our natural tears require a certain chemical balance in order to efficiently moisturize the eyes.
Symptoms of Dry Eye
Patients with dry eye may experience certain symptoms from this condition, usually affecting both eyes, which may include:
- Stinging or burning sensation
- Irritation from smoke or wind
- Eyes that feel scratchy
- Eye fatigue
- Sensitivity to light
- Difficulty wearing contact lenses
- Excessive tearing
- Blurry vision
Dry eye can damage the eye's tissues leaving tiny abrasions on the surface of your eyes, impairing vision. Fortunately, many treatment options are available to help relieve the symptoms of dry eyes, restoring health back to the eyes ensuring clear vision and long-term health.
Complications of Dry Eye
Left untreated, dry eye can lead to the following complications:
- Ulcers or scars on the cornea
- Loss of vision
Treatment of Dry Eye
Treatment for dry eye depends on the cause and severity of the condition, as well as the patient's overall health and personal preference. Non-surgical treatments are often effective, and may include the following:
- Blinking on purpose
- Increasing humidity levels at home or work
- Use artificial tears or a moisturizing ointment
- Stop smoking or exposure to second-hand smoke
- Avoiding air conditioning or windy conditions outdoors
- Stop the use of allergy and cold medicines
- Adding omega-3 fatty acids to the diet as food or supplements
If non-surgical methods are unsuccessful, surgical treatments may be an option. Treatment options may include:
- Small punctal plugs may be inserted in the corners of the eyes to limit tear drainage
- Punctal cautery, a procedure to permanently close the drainage holes may be another option
- Eyelid surgery is also a solution if an eyelid condition is causing your dry eyes
Treating the underlying cause of dry eyes can also help relieve the symptoms of this condition.
Preventing Dry Eye
There are certain steps patients can take to prevent the symptoms of dry eye from occurring, which is especially useful for those at an increased risk of developing symptoms. Simple lifestyle modifications such as wearing protective glasses on windy days, giving your eyes a break during reading or other strenuous tasks can effectively reduce the frequency and severity of symptoms.
Your doctor will provide you with instructions as to how you can avoid the symptoms of dry eye based on your individual condition.