Dry Eyes, or kerao-conjunctiva sicca, is an ocular surface disease where the eyes are not being properly lubricated.
If left untreated, dry eye disease can lead to serious eye problems, even blindness. Dry eyes are irritated and inflamed eyes. Inflammation of the front surface of the eye increases the risk of some infections and can lead to scarring. Once scarring occurs, there is a risk of permanent loss of sight
How Do You Know If You Have Dry Eyes?
Dry eye disease can cause a variety of symptoms, including:
- A feeling of dryness, irritation, discomfort, burning, stinging, itchy or grittiness
- Fluctuations in vision and or blurry/decreased vision
- A feeling of eye strain or tiredness
- Excessive tearing (watery eyes)
- Light sensitivity
- Sensitivity to wind
- Eyelids “stick together” in the morning
- Contact lens intolerance
What Causes Dry Eye?
Dry Eye Disease has many causes, all of which in one way or another disrupt the tear film. The tear film plays several important roles in keeping your eyes healthy and your vision clear. Tears lubricate the eye’s surface, wash away debris, and provide a smooth surface to help keep your vision clear. They also contain natural antibiotics that keep your eyes safe from germs that might cause infections.
The tear film has three distinct layers. For the tear film to do its job, all three layers have to be in their proper places in the correct amounts, like a recipe. If any layer is missing or abnormal (which can happen for a number of reasons) the tear film becomes disorganized and no longer soothes the eye like it should.
Lipid layer is the outermost layer
It consists of oil produced by the meibomian glands in the eyelids and helps to keep the eye lubricated and protected by preventing tears from evaporating too quickly. This is the outermost layer, and its job is to cover the aqueous layer and prevent it from evaporating.
Watery aqueous layer is the middle layer
This is produced by the lacrimal glands in the upper eyelid. It also helps to keep the surface of the eye lubricated and protected in addition to providing it with nutrients. The aqueous layer is watery, and makes up the majority of the tear film. Its job is to lubricate the eye and keep it moist.
Mucin Layer is the innermost layer
This is produced by cells on the eye’s surface and serves to hold the other two layers of the tear film in place. Its job is to smooth out the uneven spots on the eye surface. The inner mucus layer coats the surface of the eye and holds the tear film together.
Dry Eye Disease may be a result of:
- An autoimmune disease, such as Sjögrens Syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus. Natural aging, pregnancy, vitamin deficiencies, wearing contact lenses, sinus ailments, or allergies
- Some medications, such as oral contraceptives, hormone replacement therapies, antihistamines, sedatives, anti-depressants, isotretinoin for acne, anti-hypertensives, and medications to treat benign prostate hyperplasia
- Some medical treatments, such as chemotherapy, radiation or corneal surgeries
- Overexposure to smoke, sun, wind, smog, air conditioners, forced air-heat and hair dryers may aggravate a dry eye problem.
How to Treat Dry Eyes
Dry eye disease can have a number of causes, a variety of treatment approaches are used. Dry eyes cannot be cured. Its symptoms, however, can be alleviated with the recommendation from your eye doctor for one of these dry eye treatments or a combination of treatments, depending on the cause(s) and severity of your condition.
Dry Eye Treatment Options Include:
- Eye Drops over the counter (OTC)
The most common type of dry eye treatment is over the counter eye drops. These may come in different “thicknesses” such as ointment or gel depending on the severity of the dry eye disease.
This method may not be the best treatment option available and many popular eye drops do nothing to help the dry eye problem they just soothe the eyes and provide temporary relief.
- Warm Compresses
Some patients with evaporative dry eye find that applying warm compresses to the eyelids helps to unclog meibomian glands and relieve symptoms.
- Cool-mist vaporizer or a humidifier
May also be helpful to prevent or slow down the evaporation of tears
- Lid Scrubs
Treating eyelid conditions with pre-moistened pads and specialized solutions, many available over-the-counter, can be used to remove debris and bacteria from the eyelids
Some evidence suggests that increasing the amount of Omega-3 fatty acids in the diet can improve the signs and symptoms of ocular surface disease. Omega-3s are found in foods such as fish, vegetable oils and flaxseed and are also available as supplements.
- Prescription eye drops
Artificial tears do not adequately address inflammatory changes, and your eye doctor may recommend prescription eye drops to help reduce inflammation that is associated with the signs and symptoms of dry eyes to manage the underlying inflammation associated with dry eyes. Some common prescription eye drops include Restasis® and Xiidra® which eye doctors use to reduce the inflammatory component of dry eyes.
- Punctum Plugs
This method backs up or preserves the fluid or tears that are present. A temporary blockage is accomplished by using a punctum plug.The punctum plug is a small silicone or collagen plug that is inserted by an eye doctor into a tiny skin opening (punctum) in the eyelid that drains tears away from the eye.
- Oculoplastic Surgery
When the eyelids or other structures near the eye are the cause of ocular surface disease, a corrective procedure may be recommended. For example, when eyelids are turned in (entropion) or out (ectropion), surgery can be done to restore normal functioning.
If you have symptoms of dry eye syndrome, ask your eye doctor which treatment option is best for you. At Southwestern Eye we specialize in the treatment of dry eye. Get help at one of our multiple Arizona locations (including practices in Phoenix and Tucson) or our locations in Deming or Las Cruces, New Mexico. Call 480-616-0467 today.
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