What are Dry Eyes?
Dry eyes affect millions of people every day. Though this is a common syndrome, it is often misunderstood and goes undiagnosed in most people.
Chronic dry eye is a progressive disease that can be caused by genetics, medications, lifestyle, or a combination of all three. Though not fatal, chronic dry eye severely disrupts your ability to have clear vision, and the long list of symptoms can degrade your quality of life.
Chronic Dry Eye Is Nothing to Cry Over
Ever hear about how crying is healthy? Well, the cause of chronic dry eyes begins with our tear production. However, the system in our eyes that produces tears is very delicate and complex.
- Our eyes need to produce tears in an ample enough volume to keep our eyes lubricated.
- Our eyes need to have healthy and clean eyelids to wipe and spread the tears across our eyes when we blink.
- Lastly, and most importantly, our tears need to have a healthy balance of oils, water, and mucous in them to clean and lubricate.
Let’s use an example of a car’s windshield. For the windshield to be cleaned, the car has to be able to spray wiper fluid on the glass. Next, the wiper blades must be soft and rubber so that they can glide across the glass. Finally, our wiper fluid must be formulated to have cleaning agents to break down debris, but also to be watery enough to not smear and leave a film. If one of these three systems is not working, the windshield will always be dirty.
Tear Production System Break-Downs that Cause Dry Eyes
- Tear ducts located in the corner of our eyes are fed by a reservoir of tears that are produced by glands in our eyelids. There are cases where these glands stop producing tears and the reservoir dries up. This problem leads to not enough tears being available to cover the eyes with every blink.
- Eyelid inflammation is a condition known as Blepharitis. Think of a dried, cracked, and broken wiper blade on a car. As the eyelid swells, the surface that makes contact with the cornea is no longer smooth and won’t evenly spread the tears. In extreme cases, the swelling can even cause discomfort as the eyelid begins to feel scratchy every time it blinks.Blepharitis can be caused by an overpopulation of naturally occurring bio-organisms that live on our skin, a lack of blinking when staring at something like a computer screen, medications, or allergies. All the tears in the world aren’t going to do you any good if the eyelid can’t distribute them across the cornea.
- Tear composition is a complex science that can be evaluated by an experienced eye doctor with a specialty in treating dry eye. Be sure your eye doctor has a history and reputation for successful dry eye treatment before making an appointment.
Under a microscope, a healthy tear layer that is resting on the eye is made up of three components: mucous, aqueous, and lipid.
- Mucous: This is the layer of the tear that makes direct contact with the eye and forms a bond between the tear and the tissue of the eye. It is what keeps our tears from falling off our eyes like a nonstick pan.
- Aqueous: This watery layer carries oxygen and nutrients to our eye. It also is used to help flush away debris and ensure that the tears can seep deep into every corner of the eyeball.
- Lipid: The lipid or oily layer keeps the surface of the eye smooth and lubricated. It also serves as a barrier to the water layer to keep your tears from quickly evaporating between blinks.
If one of the three layers is deficient, the chemical balance is thrown off and the tears become ineffective.
Symptoms of Dry Eye
The following are the most common symptoms cited by our dry eye patients:
• Burning sensation
• Feeling like there is something in the eye
• Inability to be near a fan or turn on a car’s AC
• Pain when holding eyes wide open
• Light sensitivity
• Contact lens discomfort after a few hours
• Poor night driving vision
• Swelling of the eyelids
• Bloodshot eyes
• Redness around eyes from constant rubbing
Eye Didn’t Know That!
An extremely common symptom of dry eyes is rather ironic – overly wet and weepy eyes. This is common when the body can’t produce or deliver enough oil to the tears. The result is that the tears evaporate too quickly, and the body just sends more tears to try to compensate. Those tears also evaporate, and the body keeps sending more. The cycle of weepy tears is vicious.
Diagnosis and Treatment
The only way to have a proper diagnosis of dry eye is to see a qualified eye doctor who has experience in treating dry eye. Many people buy over-the-counter drops to provide a few minutes of relief. This either does nothing, or it could make the dry eyes worse if the drop contains preservatives that lead to irritation with overuse.
An eye doctor needs to find the source of the dry eye to be able to prescribe the proper remedy for it. Some dry eye cases can be fixed with a simple approach of drinking more water and adding certain supplements to your diet. There are also prescription and over-the counter-drops that can help provide some relief.
In more extreme cases, there are procedures that can clean out and rejuvenate the oil producing glands in your eyelids to restore healthy function. Other procedures are administered to clean away lid debris and resurface the eyelids to have a healthy blinking surface.
If you or someone you know believes that you have chronic dry eye, please contact The Eye Doctors in New Tampa or Trinity to schedule an evaluation. The symptoms will not go away on their own, but with our help, you can find relief!
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