Some people do not produce enough tears or the appropriate quality of tears to keep the eye healthy and comfortable. This condition is known as dry eye. Tears are a combination of water (for moisture), oils (for lubrication), mucus (for even spreading and antibodies) and special proteins (for resistance to infection). These components are secreted by special glands located around the eye. When there is an imbalance in this tear system, a person may experience dry eyes. Tears are produced by two different methods. One method produces tears at a slow, steady rate and is responsible for natural eye lubrication. The other method produces large quantities of tears in response to eye irritation or emotions. Dry eyes feel uncomfortable. If you have dry eyes, your eyes may sting or burn. You may experience dry eyes in certain situations, such as on an airplane, in an air-conditioned room, while riding a bike, or after looking at a computer screen for a few hours. The usual symptoms include:
- Stinging or burning eyes
- Stringy mucus in or around the eyes
- Excessive eye irritation from smoke or wind
- Excess tearing
- Difficulty wearing contact lenses
- Light sensitivity
- Blurring of vision
For some people, the cause of dry eyes is an imbalance in the composition of their tears. Other people don’t produce enough tears to keep their eyes comfortably lubricated. Eyelid problems, medications and other causes, such as environmental factors, can also lead to dry eyes. Other conditions that may cause dry eyes are:
- The aging process
- Side effects of certain drugs, like birth control pills.
- Gender, women are more likely to develop dry eyes due to hormonal changes caused by pregnancy, the use of oral contraceptives, and menopause.
- Structural problems with the eye lids that don’t allow them to close properly.
- Environmental conditions like exposure to smoke, wind and dry climates can increase tear evaporation resulting in dry eye symptoms.
- 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.
Treatment Options The first step is finding a doctor who will take time to accurately determine the cause of the dry eye and discuss your treatment options with you. Though dry eyes cannot be cured, there are a number of steps that can be taken to treat them. The primary approaches used to manage and treat dry eyes include artificial tear drops, lubricant ointments and mechanisms for partial or total blockage of the drainage of the tears called punctual occlusion, increasing tear production, and treating the inflammation of the eyelids or eye surface that contributes to the dry eyes. If you believe that you are experiencing dry eyes, please call Fillmore Eye Clinic today to schedule an eye exam.