Dry eye syndrome is a chronic condition where the surface of the eye fails to maintain sufficient lubrication and moisture. Repercussions of the disorder range from slight eye irritation to an increased risk of infections and corneal inflammation.
For comfort as well as optimal vision, your eyes produce a thin film of tears that consists of 3 main layers:
- A very thin inner layer of mucin (or mucus) that helps evenly spread the watery middle layer over the eye.
- A thick middle or aqueous layer of very diluted saltwater produced by the lacrimal glands under the upper lids and the tear glands. This layer also helps flush out any debris and dust.
- A very thin superficial layer of lipids (fats or oils) produced by the meibomian and Zeis glands whose main purpose is to help decrease evaporation of the middle layer.
Causes of Dry Eye Syndrome
When the above layers fail to adequately perform, you suffer a lack of moisture or moisture that evaporates too quickly. Defects of the middle layer are the most common cause of dry eye. Additional causes of dry eye include:
- Aging process, especially for women over age 40
- Hormonal fluctuations
- Medications including antihistamines, antidepressants and birth control and those for treatment of high blood pressure and Parkinson’s disease
- Long-term contact lens wear
- Incomplete closure of the eyelid
- Eye lid diseases such as blepharitis
- Eye injuries
- Eye disorders such as drooping eyelid or bulging eyes
- Some eye surgeries
- Climatic factors including excessive exposure to sun, dryness, dust, wind and low humidity
- Home and office air conditioning and heating systems
- Insufficient blinking especially when working at a computer for extended periods
- Cigarette smoking
- Lupus (inflammatory disease)
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Rosacea (skin disorder)
- Sjogren’s syndrome (immune system disorder)
Signs and symptoms
Obviously, persistent dryness is a clear indication of the disorder. However other symptoms may not be as easily recognized including:
- Burning sensations
- Foreign body sensations
- Watery eyes due to abnormal stimulation of tears
Dry eye syndrome can be diagnosed during a regular eye exam. To confirm the diagnosis, we may perform a Schirmer test which utilizes a thin strip of filter paper to collect and, thus, measure moisture in the eye.
Dry eye syndrome is, unfortunately, a chronic disorder that may require ongoing treatment. Lubricating eye drops commonly referred to as artificial tears can be used to relieve the condition. If your symptoms are more pronounced, prescription eye drops can be used to stimulate tear production.
If you wear contact lenses and use over-the-counter eye drops, always check the label to be sure they can be used by contact lens wearers. You should look for rewetting drops specifically for contact lenses. If your contacts lenses are suspected of causing the problem, changing lens type or brand may alleviate the problem.
In more extreme cases, tiny plugs can be placed in the corners of the eyes to reduce tear drainage. The risks associated with plug insertion are relatively low. However, spontaneous extrusion through natural ejection or due to eye rubbing occurs in approximately 50 percent of patients.
Never ignore eye irritations or self-diagnose or treat any eye condition on your own. A quick consultation may be all that is necessary to determine the cause of the problem and the most effective solution.
Additional steps that you can take to relieve dry eyes include:
- Wearing sunglasses to protect against sun, wind and dust
- Using a humidifier in your home or office
- Using an air cleaner to filter out dust and other irritants
- Increasing water intake to at least 8 glasses per day
- Studies suggest that omega-3 essential fatty acids can decrease dry eyes
- If you noticed the condition after starting a new medication, talk to your doctor who may be able to prescribe a different drug
Dry eye syndrome can be detected during a regular eye exam. If you have any form of eye irritation or any questions or concerns about your eye comfort, call our office at 425.822.8253 to schedule an appointment.