- Posted on: Jul 13 2020
Dry eye is a common condition, affecting around 5 million Americans, according to the National Institute of Health (NIH). It occurs for one of two reasons: the eyes do not produce enough tears, or the quality of the tears is poor. This can lead to discomfort such as itching, redness and pain. If symptoms become severe, the untreated condition can even lead to eye damage.
What Are Tears?
Tears are produced in the glands above your eyes. They are made up of 3 layers: aqueous, mucus, and lipid. These 3 layers each have a function to keep the eyes lubricated and to prevent the evaporation of tears. If the 3 layers are imbalanced, dry eye symptoms may occur. If the eye is exposed to the air for too long without tear film covering the surface, the cornea may be damaged.
Symptoms Of Dry Eye
The symptoms of dry eye include the following:
- Stinging, burning or scratchiness, like something is in the eye
- Sensitivity to light
- Discomfort while wearing contact lenses
- Watery eyes
- Blurry vision
- Red eyes
- Eye fatigue
There are a number of risk factors for dry eye. Some of the most common are:
- Those over age 50 are more likely to experience dry eye
- Women are more likely to experience dry eye than men, due to hormonal changes that often occur during pregnancy and menopause
- Medication use such as antihistamines and decongestants
- These medications have a drying effect on the body
- Underlying illness, such as Sjögren’s syndrome, lupus, diabetes, and thyroid disease
- Dry eyes are a common symptom of autoimmune disease
- Contact lens wear
- Contacts can interfere with the tear film, causing discomfort
- Environmental factors such as wind, smoke, or dry climate
- These factors can increase tear evaporation
- Computer use
- Looking at computer/phone/tablet screens leads to decreased blink rate, causing tears to evaporate too fast
- LASIK surgery
- People who have had LASIK eye surgery may experience dry eye as a side effect
Testing for Dry Eye
Your doctor may use a variety of methods to test for dry eye. Some of the most common methods are:
- Tear Lab
- Tear lab is a device that tests the quality of the tears by taking a sample directly from the eye.
- Schirmer’s test
- This test measures the volume of tears using strips of paper inserted just below the lower eyelid. The tears will soak into the paper, and the doctor will use this to determine how much liquid is present in the eye.
- Ocular surface staining
- This test measures how long your tears last on the eye. The doctor will put a drop of a harmless dye into the eye, then view it using a bright light on their slit lamp. They will measure the amount of time it takes for the tears to evaporate.
Treatment Of Dry Eye
There are a variety of treatment options for dry eye. Depending on the cause and severity, symptoms may be managed with over the counter treatments, or may require medical intervention.
- Hot compresses
- Heat applied to the eyelid can loosen the lipids in the meibomian gland, allowing them to coat the eye. Lipids are necessary to prevent tears from evaporating too quickly.
- Artificial tears
- These eye drops are available over the counter at most drug stores. Doctors often recommend a preservative free formula to minimize the risk of rebound symptoms caused by irritation from preservatives.
- These are thick, gel-like products that are placed inside the eyelid, usually before going to bed. They keep the eye moisturized throughout the night, when eyes may not remain fully closed.
- Prescription medications
- There are 2 prescription medications currently on the market for the treatment of dry eye symptoms: Restasis and Xiidra. Your eye doctor may prescribe these medications depending on the cause of your dry eyes.
- Punctal Plugs
- The puncta are small holes in the eyelids that drain away excess fluid. Punctal plugs are small silicone posts inserted into the puncta to prevent them from draining. This allows the tear to remain on the surface of the eye for as long as possible.
- Autologous serum
- This serum is a specialty eye drop, made from a carefully prepared formulation of the patient’s own blood. This treatment is usually reserved for severe cases of dry eye.
If an eyelid condition is causing dry eye, eyelid surgery may be recommended.
If dry eye is left untreated, it can lead to complications that include pain, corneal ulcers/scars or vision loss.
Preventing Dry Eye
There are steps that can be taken to prevent dry eye symptoms:
- Keep the eyelids clean. Use baby shampoo or a doctor recommended eyelid cleanser to clean the portion of the eyelid where lashes grow.
- Avoid environmental factors when possible, and stay away from air-conditioners and forced air heaters.
- Use a humidifier in dry climates.
- Eat foods high in Omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin A.
- Wear goggles or wraparound glasses when in windy or smoky environments
- Follow the 20-20-20 rule when using screens: every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Remember to blink frequently.
- Avoid wearing contact lenses when possible, or wear daily disposable lenses. Never sleep in contact lenses.
If you are struggling with symptoms of dry eye, consider making an appointment with the doctors at Mountain View Eye Center. They carry a wide variety of treatment options in office, making it more convenient than ever to achieve relief. To make an appointment, call or text (907) 328-2920. Thank you for taking the time to read our blog, and stay tuned for weekly updates!
Written by: Gina Stafford COA, LDO, ABOC
National Institute of Health National Eye Institute Dry Eye https://www.nei.nih.gov/learn-about-eye-health/eye-conditions-and-diseases/dry-eye
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