What is Dry Eye Disease?
Dry eye is a condition that occurs when the eye is unable to produce tears properly, or when the tears produced are not the right consistency and evaporate quickly. Additionally, along with the sensation of dry eyes, the eye’s surface may become inflamed. If the condition is not treated, it can lead to ulcers, corneal scars, pain, and even reduced vision. However, it is uncommon for one to lose their eyesight completely from dry eye.
Types of Dry Eye Disease
There are 2 types of dry eye that can occur; aqueous tear-deficient and evaporative. The first is caused by the failure of the lacrimal glands to produce enough of the watery component of tears, which is important to maintain an eye surface that is healthy. The latter, may be a result of inflamed or blocked Meibomian glands, which are in the eyelids. These glands are responsible for the oily part or the lipid found in tears that both slows the tear evaporation and also keeps them stable.
The Importance of Tears
Tears are necessary for clear vision as well overall eye health. Tears are produced constantly, and they help nourish, protect, and bathe the surface of the eye. Additionally, more tears are produced as a defense mechanism when the eye is irritated or infected, or when dust particles or a foreign body lands in the eye. The failure of the lacrimal glands to produce tears results in dry eye.
Meibomian Gland Dysfunction and Blepharitis are conditions that cause inflammation and blockage of the eyelid margins. These also contribute to dry eye disease.
What are the Symptoms of Dry Eye?
- Burning/stinging of the eye
- Episodes when there are excess tears and then periods of dry eye
- Gritty/sandy feeling as though there is something in the eye
- Redness and pain in the eye
- Stringy discharge
- Episodes of blurry vision
- Eye fatigue
- Heavy eyelids
- Uncomfortable contact lenses
- Loss of ability to produce tears in moments of emotional stress
- Decreased tolerance of activities that require visual attention
What are the Risk Factors for Developing Dry Eye Disease?
- Age 50 years or older. As you get older, tear production tends to diminish and Dry Eye becomes more common.
- Being a woman. Hormonal changes due to pregnancy, using birth control pills or menopause reduces tear production.
- Eating a diet that is low in vitamin A, which is found in liver, carrots and broccoli, or low in omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fish, walnuts and vegetable oils
- Wearing contact lenses
- Sustained computer use or reading causing decreased blink rates
- Environmental factors such as low humidity, high temperatures, pollution, poor air quality
- Medications such as antidepressants, diuretics, chemotherapy, anti-histamines etc. may have dry eyes as a side effects
How is this Condition Treated?
The treatment for the disease will vary from person to person, as it all depends on the cause of the disease.
Treatment can range from increased artificial tear usage, taking Omega-3 supplements, taking prescription eye drops, plugging the eye’s drainage holes, in-office therapy etc. Your optometrist will be able to guide you through a treatment process that is best for your condition.