What is Dry Eye?
Normally, the eye constantly bathes itself in tears. By producing tears at a slow and steady rate the eye stays moist and comfortable.
Sometimes people do not produce enough tears or the appropriate quality of tears to keep their eyes healthy and comfortable. This condition is known as dry eye.
The eye uses two different methods to produce tears. It can make tears at a slow, steady rate to maintain normal eye lubrication. It can also produce large quantities of tears in response to eye irritation or emotion. When a foreign body or dryness irritates the eye, or when a person cries, excessive tearing occurs.
What are the symptoms of dry eye?
The usual symptoms include:
- stinging or burning eyes;
- stringy mucus in or around eyes;
- excessive irritation from smoke or wind;
- excess tearing;
- discomfort when wearing contact lenses.
- blurring with prolonged reading (starts clear, blurs after 15 - 20 minutes)
Excess tearing from “dry eye” may sound illogical, but it can be understood as the eye’s response to discomfort. If the tears responsible for maintaining lubrication do not keep the eye wet enough, the eye becomes irritated. Eye irritation prompts the gland that makes tears (called the lacrimal gland) to release a large volume of tears, overwhelming the tear drainage system, these excess tears then overflow from your eye.
What causes dry eye?
Tear production normally decreases as we age. Although dry eye can occur in both men and women at any age, women are most often affected. This is especially true after menopause.
Dry eye can also be associated with other problems. For example, people with dry eyes, dry mouth, and arthritis are said to have Sjogren’s syndrome.
A wide variety of common medications-both prescription and over-the-counter-can cause dry eye by reducing tear secretion. Be sure to tell your ophthalmologist (Eye M.D.) the names of all the medications you are taking, especially if you using:
- sleeping pills;
- medications for “nerves”; or
- pain relievers
Since these medications are often necessary, the dry eye condition may have to be tolerated or treated with eyedrops called artificial tears.
People with dry eye are often more prone to the toxic side effects of eye medications, including artificial tears, For example, the preservatives in certain eyedrops and artificial tear preparations can irritate the eye. These people may need special preservative-free artificial tears.
How is dry eye treated?
Eyedrops called artificial tears are similar to your own tears are similar to your own tears. They lubricate the eyes and help maintain moisture.
Artificial tears are available without a prescription. There are many brands on the market, so you may want to try several to find the one you like best.
Preservative-free eyedrops are available for people who are sensitive to the preservatives in artificial tears. If you need to use artificial tears more than every two hours, preservative-free brands may be better for you.
You can use the artificial tears as often as necessary-once or twice a day or as often as several times an hour.
Conserving Your Tears
Conserving your eyes’ own tears is another approach to keeping the eyes moist. Tears drain out of the eye through a small channel into the nose (which is why your nose runs when you cry). Your ophthalmologist may close these channels either temporarily using PUNCTAL PLUGS or permanently. The closure conserves your own tears and makes artificial tears last longer.
Tears evaporate like any other liquid. You can take steps to prevent evaporation. In winter, when indoor heating is in use, a humidifier or a pan of water on the radiator adds moisture to dry air. Wrap-around glasses may reduce the drying effect of the wind, but you should note that they are illegal to wear while driving in some states.
A person with dry eye should avoid anything that may cause dryness, such as an overly warm room, hair dryers, or wind. Smoking is especially bothersome.
Some people with dry eye complain of “scratchy eyes” when they wake up. This symptom can be treated by using an artificial tear ointment or thick eyedrops at bedtime. Use the smallest amount of ointment necessary for comfort, since the ointment can cause your vision to blur.
Dry eye due to lack of vitamin A in the diet is rare in the United States but is more common in poorer countries, especially among children. Ointments containing Vitamin A can help dry eye if it is caused by unusual conditions such as Stevens- Johnson syndrome or pemphigoid. Vitamin A supplements do not seem to help people with ordinary dry eye.