Tears are necessary to sustain the health of the front surface of the eye and to provide clear vision. When there are not enough tears to lubricate and nourish the eye, a condition called Dry Eye can result. People with this condition either do not produce sufficient tears or have poor tear quality. The condition is a common, and very often chronic, problem – particularly in older adults.
Tears lubricate the eyes, reduce risk of eye infection, and wash away foreign matter in the eye. They also keep the surface of the eyes smooth and clear.
What Causes Dry Eyes?
Insufficient tears is one cause of dry eyes. Tears diminish with age, with various medical conditions, or as a side effect of certain medicines. Wind and dry climates can also affect tear volume by increasing evaporation.
Sometimes tears are of poor quality owing to deficiencies with any of the three tear layers: oil, water and mucus. A smooth oil layer helps to prevent evaporation of the water layer, while the mucin layer functions in spreading the tears evenly over the surface of the eye. If tears evaporate too quickly because of a deficiency, dry eye symptoms can develop.
Keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS), also referred to as dry eye syndrome, is the most common form of dry eyes owing to an inadequate amount of the water layer of tears.
Dry Eye Symptoms
If you experience gritty, scratchy, burning eyes or blurred vision, you may have dry eyes. If allowed to progress untreated, advanced dry eyes can damage the front surface of the eye and impair vision.
Treatment for Dry Eyes
Dry eyes can become a chronic condition, but your optometrist can prescribe treatment to keep your eyes healthy and more comfortable, and prevent your vision from becoming affected. Your optometrist will prescribe treatment accordingly for adding tears, increasing tear production, and treating the inflammation of the eyelids or eye surface that contributes to the dry eyes.
- Adding tears – In mild cases, dry eyes can often be managed using over-the-counter artificial tear solutions. These can be used as needed to supplement natural tear production. Preservative-free artificial tear solutions are recommended as they will not contain irritants which might further harm the eyes and cause discomfort.
- Conserving tears – One treatment approach is to keep natural tears in the eyes longer. This is achieved by blocking the tear ducts through which the tears normally drain. Tiny silicone or gel-like plugs are used that can be removed, if needed
- Treating inflammation – For disease inflammation around the surface of the eyes, prescription eye drops or ointments, warm compresses and lid massage, or eyelid cleaners may be recommended to help decrease inflammation.
These personal steps can be taken to reduce the symptoms of dry eyes:
- Always blink regularly when reading or looking at a computer screen for long periods of time.
- Wearing wraparound sunglasses outdoors will help reduce exposure to wind and rain.
- Increase the humidity level at work and home.
- Dry eye symptoms may be reduced by using nutritional supplements containing essential fatty acids, and it’s a good idea to chat to your eye care practitioner about this.
- Avoid dehydration by drinking 8 to 10 glasses of water each day.
A comprehensive eye test will enable your optometrist to determine if you have dry eyes and to prescribe the appropriate treatment.