Dry eye is a condition caused by a lack of tears which are needed to keep the cornea healthy. Tears nourish and lubricate the eye, and they enable a person to see clearly. Dry eye is often a chronic condition.
What causes dry eye?
There are two main types of dry eye. In the first type, the patient simply doesn’t produce enough tears, which come from glands in and around the eyelids. Tear production often decreases as a person ages. Some medical conditions or medications can also decrease tear production. Wind, dry climates and other environmental conditions can cause tears to evaporate more quickly than normal.
In the second type, the patient produces defective tears. Tears have three layers: an oily outer layer, a watery middle layer, and a mucusy inner layer. Each layer helps protect the eye in some fashion. The oil, for example, keeps the water from evaporating, while the mucus ensures that the water is evenly spread over the whole eye. Deficiencies in any of the layers cause dry eye. The most common form of such a deficiency is called keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS). Also known as dry eye syndrome, it’s caused by a lack of water in the tears.
What are the symptoms?
Regardless of the causes, people with dry eye may feel like there’s something in their eyes which may also water excessively. The patient may also have stringy mucus around or in their eyes. They may also have irritated eyes that feel itchy, scratchy, burning or gritty, and they may also develop blurred vision. The patient may also have trouble with night time driving or with wearing contact lenses. In severe cases, dry eye can damage the cornea and thus impair vision.
Who is most likely to develop dry eye?
Dry eye is most common in older adults, especially women who are over 65 years old. Some medicines like antihistamines, antidepressants, blood pressure medications and decongestants can cause or exacerbate dry eye. People with diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis or thyroid trouble are likely to develop dry eye. Some eye conditions such as inflammation of the cornea or eyelids or inward or outward turning of the eyelids may be accompanied by dry eye.
What kinds of self-care can help dry eye?
A person with dry eye can help their condition by staying hydrated and drinking 8 – 10 glasses of water per day. They should also increase the humidity in their office and/or home. The patient should wear wraparound sunglasses when outdoors to protect their eyes from the wind. They should also blink regularly when working at a computer for a long time.
What treatments are there for dry eye?
Over-the-counter artificial tear solutions can be used for mild cases. The patient can use them as often as needed. The doctor may also prescribe eye drops to reduce inflammation. He may also recommend omega-3 fatty acid nutritional supplements to help increase tear production.
The doctor may prescribe drugs called cholinergics that stimulate tear production. These drugs can be pills, eye drops or gels. In severe cases that aren’t responding to other treatments, the doctor may use eye drops made from the patient’s own blood.
In more severe cases, the doctor may prescribe eye inserts. Known as Lacrisert, the inserts look like a transparent grain of rice. The patient will put the insert between their eyeball and lower eyelid once every day. It will then dissolve and release a lubricant.
The doctor may also decide to treat dry eye by keeping natural tears in the eye longer. He may use tiny plugs made of gel or silicone to block some of the tear ducts. He may also surgically close some tear ducts.