Dry eye is a wide-spread term that can be used to refer to abnormalities in the tear layer used to protect the surface of the eye, defending sensitive surface tissues and providing clear vision. Other common terms for dry eye syndrome include chronic dry eye, dry eye syndrome, and keratoconjunctivitis sicca. Importantly, dry eye doesn’t necessarily mean that your eyes are dry. In fact, many people find that they suffer from dry eyes and still experience chronically watery eyes. What dry eye does mean is that there is something wrong with your tear film. The tear film is a complex combination of different layers, which include water, oil and mucus. Each of the three layers in typical tear films come from different sources, and disruption to any of these sources can disrupt routine lubrication and lead to dry eye.
There are a number of different causes or factors that can lead to dry eye syndrome, including: • Aging • Excessive computer use • Environment (air pollution, dry climates, wind) • Auto-immune diseases (like rheumatoid arthritis) • Surgeries on the eyelids or eyes • Medication side effects
The symptoms of dry eye can vary greatly. Some symptoms such as watery eyes are highly common but also quite surprising. Some of the most common symptoms that are experienced by dry eye patients include: • A feeling of grittiness and sandiness in the eye • Aching or sore eyes • Burning or painful eyes • Sensitivity to light • Tired eyes • Contact lens discomfort • Watery eyes • Blurred vision
The most commonly used test for dry eye is the Schirmer test, which uses a small strip of paper placed in the eye which can measure the aqueous tear production by seeing how much moisture accumulates over time. The tear break-up time test can also help doctors to determine tear film instability.
The kind of treatment that you receive for your dry eye condition must be tailored to the type of condition you are dealing with. While some of the treatments given for dry eye attempt to treat the source, with severe varieties of the condition it is usually necessary to use treatments that reduce the symptoms. Some of the best known treatments for dry eye include: • Punctal plugs • Lubricants • Lid hygiene • Topical steroids • Warm compresses • Protective eyewear
The health of the eye relates directly to the ability of the surface to remain lubricated. A dry ocular surface can result in severe injuries, abrasions, and erosions, which can progress into ulceration in some cases, and may even compromise vision. Nearly all patients of dry eye syndrome will need to use lubricants, drops, and ointments to help protect their eyes and reduce discomfort.
Though it seems contradictory that dry eyes could be watery, irritated, painful eyes can stimulate the production of tears. Excessive production of tears that are too watery can make the tear film problem worse, because it can sometimes wash away the healthier part of the tear that the eye has been able to produce.
The sensation of dry eye that leads to a sense of grittiness or sandiness in the eye is very common. The issue is known as foreign body sensation and it can either be much localized or occur throughout the entire eye. Dry spots or small injuries on the cornea can cause a gritty or painful sensation that feels as though there is something in the eye.
Dry eyes are most commonly caused from an individual not being able to produce healthy tears. This is NOT affected by a change of seasons. Many people feel more symptoms during allergy season, or warmer months when they are in a dry air conditioned environment.
If left untreated, dry eyes can sometimes be dangerous. Excessive dry eye can scar the cornea, impairing your vision, or damage tissue. Dry eye can also make contact lens wear a lot more difficult since tears may be inadequate to keep lenses lubricated and wet. This can lead to a greater chance of eye infection.
Moderate or mild conditions of dry eye can sometimes be managed well with lubricants and other common treatments. Moderate or severe dry eye can affect vision more, and can also affect the quality of life through eye sensitivity, chronic pain, and other restricted activities. Significant dry eye can lead to ulceration desiccation of the corneal epithelium, or perforation of the cornea.
Consistent “eye breaks” for those who work on a computer for more than 4 hours a day is good practice. These breaks should be taken every 20 minutes taking time away from the screen for at least 20 seconds. It is vital that people have an annual eye exam, even if they don’t wear glasses. Our eyes are precious and it’s important that they are well taken care of.