What Is Dry Eye?
A protective film of tears coats the eye's outer layer. New tears form in glands located around the eye and keep the moisture level in the eye balanced. This protective film is important for comfort and clear vision. Some people do not produce enough tears to keep the eyes wet and comfortable. This condition is known as dry eye, one of the most common eye conditions.
Causes of Dry Eye
Dry eye results from a variety of causes, but aging is the single highest factor. As people age, the production of tears decreases. Although it occurs in women and men, post-menopausal women are most affected.
Other causes of dry eye can include:
- Illness (including rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Graves' disease, diabetes, scleroderma, and Sjogren's syndrome)
- Hormonal changes in women after menopause and during pregnancy
- Poor blinking habits while reading or looking at a computer screen for long periods of time
- A dry, indoor environment
- Contact lenses
- Certain medications (including tranquilizers, antihistamines, certain heart medications, diuretics, birth control pills and ulcer medications)
Symptoms of Dry Eye
Dry eye symptoms include a dry, gritty or burning sensation in the eyes, redness, watery or teary eyes and mucus that make the eyes feel "glued shut" after sleeping. Many people also report the feeling of something in the eye or eyestrain. Itching and light sensitivity may also occur. Symptoms are usually worse late in the day.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Dry Eye
Very often, dry eye can be diagnosed based on symptoms. Ophthalmologists also use a variety of tests including measuring tear production, special dyes, and evaluation of the constitution of the tear film in order to confirm the diagnosis. These tests serve to rule out other potential problems, such as conjunctivitis, that can produce the same symptoms.
If dry eye is left untreated, it can damage tissue and scar the cornea. Treatment of dry eye is directed at wetting the eye, reducing inflammation, improving the work/home environment and evaluating overall health, medications and diet.
- Artificial tears or ointments
- Punctal plugs to prevent tear drainage
- Eliminating dryness and dust
- Diet modification
- Evaluation of medications
- Increased blinking
- Treatment of associated medical problems