Our eyes need tears to stay healthy and comfortable. If your eyes do not produce enough tears, it is called dry eye. Dry eye is also when your eyes do not make the right type of tears or tear film. When you blink, a film of tears spreads over the eye. This keeps the eye’s surface smooth and clear. The tear film is important for good vision.
Normally, our eyes constantly make tears to stay moist. If our eyes are irritated, or we cry, our eyes make a lot of tears. But, sometimes the eyes don’t make enough tears or something affects one or more layers of the tear film. In those cases, we end up with dry eyes. There are three components to normal tear film. If any of these are abnormal or deficient, it can result in dry-eye symptoms.
Symptoms of Dry Eye
- Your eyes feel like they are stinging and burning.
- There is a scratchy or gritty feeling like something is in your eye.
- There are strings of mucus in or around your eyes
- Your eyes are red or irritated. This is especially true when you are in the wind or near cigarette smoke.
- It is painful to wear contact lenses.
- You have lots of tears in your eyes. Having a lot of tears in your eyes with “dry eye” might sound odd. But your eyes make more tears when they are irritated by dry eye.
Causes or Conditions That Contribute to Dry Eye
People tend to make fewer tears as they get older due to hormonal changes. Both men and women can get dry eye, however, it is more common in women—especially those who have gone through menopause.
- Certain diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, Sjögren’s syndrome, thyroid disease, and lupus.
- Blepharitis (when eyelids are swollen or red.)
- Meibomian Gland Dysfunction.
- Entropion (when lower eyelids turn inward); ectropion (lower eyelids turn outward.)
- Being in smoke, wind or a very dry climate.
- Looking at a computer screen for a long time; reading and other activities that reduce blinking.
- Using contact lenses for a long time.
- Having refractive eye surgery, such as LASIK.
- Taking certain medicines, such as:
Diuretics (water pills) for high blood pressure
Beta-blockers, for heart problems or high blood pressure
Allergy medicines (antihistamines)
Dry Eye Treatments
Mild dry eye symptoms may be treated with over-the-counter medications such as atrificial tears, gels and ointments. Artificial tears are eye drops that are like your own tears. You can use artificial tears as often as you need to, and can buy them without a prescription. There are many brands on the market so try a few until you find a brand that works best for you.
If you use artificial tears more than six times a day or are allergic to preservatives, you should use preservative-free tears. If artificial tears with preservatives are used frequently, these chemicals may start to irritate your eyes.
Depending on your specific condition, Dr. Victor may suggest blocking the tear ducts. This makes your natural tears stay in your eyes longer. Tiny silicone or gel plugs (called punctal plugs) are inserted in the tear ducts at the inner corners of the eye to keep tears on the eyes longer. Punctal occulsion is a simple in office procedure to provide longer contact time with a patient's own tears. In severe cases, surgical closure of the drainage ducts by thermal punctal cautery may be recommended to close the tear ducts permanently.