What is dry eye?
Dry eye is a common condition where the eye does not produce tears of sufficient quantity and quality to keep it comfortable and moist. Dry eye is chronic, affects about 1 in 10 and is more prevalent with age. Discomfort can range from mild and intermittent to persistent and disabling. Regardless of severity, regular check-ups with your optometrist are necessary to ensure proper treatment and best outcomes.
What are the symptoms of dry eye?
The two most common symptoms are persistent eye irritation and a sandy-gritty sensation that gets worse as the day goes on. Other eye symptoms may include intermittent blurry vision, stinging, burning, mucous discharge and sensitivity to light.
What are tears made of?
The tear film is composed of three layers. The outermost layer is made of oil, the middle is mostly water and the inner is a mucous layer. All three layers are required for comfort and good vision.
What are the causes of dry eye?
Dry eye can be caused by various conditions that affect the tear or meibomian (oil) glands of the eye, decrease corneal sensation, or from insufficient eyelid coverage when blinking and during sleep.
Conditions associated with dry eye:
- Long-standing inflammation of the eyelids (blepharitis)
- Poorly controlled diabetes
- Long-term contact lens wear
- Past eye or lid surgery
- Autoimmune disease such as arthritis and Sjögren’s syndrome
Diagnosis of dry eye
Diagnosis involves identifying the duration and nature of your symptoms, measuring tear production, a microscopic evaluation of the tear glands and exclusion of other similar diseases. Sometimes samples of your tears and special eye staining is required to confirm the diagnosis.
Sun, wind and spending too much time in front of a computer screen can exacerbate your dry eye. Smoking and being around smoke can also cause irritation. Wearing glasses that block wind and protect your eyes from harmful light often helps.
Why do I sometimes feel like my eyes are overly watery, not dry?
People with dry eye have an impaired tear film protecting the eye. The eye reacts to the poor surface quality by producing excess amounts of emergency tears (the same as when we cry). However, emergency tears do not provide adequate nutrition and protection for the eye.
Treatment for dry eye
Dry eye is treated with drops and ointments that lubricate and provide nutrition. Depending on the severity and original cause of the dry eye, different options are available. Drops are applied during the day and just before bedtime. For mild dry eye, drops can be used up to 4-6 times per day. If symptoms are more advanced and drops are required more frequently, preservative free
drops should be used. In some cases a tiny implant designed to limit drainage of tears, called a punctual plug may be indicated.
Dietary supplements of Omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil and flaxseed oil) have demonstrated preventative and therapeutic qualities by increasing natural tear secretion and reducing irritation. Regular intake is recommended to promote the healthy functioning of the eye.
Cleaning and de-clogging your pores can further help to alleviate symptoms and minimize irritation. This is done by performing daily warm compresses and lid scrubs.
Instructions on standard lid cleaning can be found here.