Dry Eye Syndrome
With every blink, a thin tear film spreads across the clear outer layer of the eye (cornea), helping to keep it smooth, wet, and comfortable. In addition to providing essential lubrication, tears improve vision by helping to focus the light that enters the eye. They also help wash away debris and reduce the risk of eye infections.
Dry eye disease occurs when the eyes are not properly lubricated. This can happen if the tear glands do not produce enough fluid, the tears evaporate too quickly, or the tears do not provide sufficient wetness.
Symptoms of Dry Eye Disease
Usually, dry eye disease affects both eyes. Common signs include:
- Stinging and burning sensations
- A scratchy feeling (as if a foreign object were in the eye)
- Sensitivity to light
- Blurred vision
- Difficulty wearing contact lenses
- Difficulty driving after dark
Dry eye symptoms may become more noticeable in certain situations, such as when traveling on an airplane, riding a bicycle, looking at a computer screen, or spending time in an air-conditioned room.
Causes of Dry Eye Disease
Common causes of dry eyes include:
- Certain medications – Dry eye disease is a known side effect of some medications commonly used to treat colds and flu, allergies, high blood pressure, or depression.
- Certain health issues – Chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, thyroid disease, lupus, and Sjögren syndrome can cause dry eyes.
- Eye surgery – Dry eye disease may temporarily develop after laser eye surgery. In most cases, however, the dryness improves with time.
- Certain environmental conditions – Tears may evaporate faster in windy, smoky, and arid settings.
- Computer vision syndrome – Too much screen time can decrease the eye’s blink rate, which in turn can cause dry eyes.
Risk Factors for Dry Eye Disease
Certain characteristics, exposures, and behaviors can increase the likelihood of developing dry eyes, such as:
- Age – Tear production tends to diminish over time.
- Gender – Women are more susceptible to dry eye disease than men, possibly due to hormonal shifts that occur during pregnancy, oral contraceptive use, and menopause.
- Vitamin A deficiency – A sufficient intake of vitamin A is needed for normal tear production.
- Contact lens use – Contacts can absorb some of the tears that would otherwise help keep the eyes moist.
How to Prevent Dry Eyes
Some potentially effective ways to avoid or reduce dry eye symptoms include:
- Keeping air from blowing directly into the eyes – Common sources of blowing air include fans, air conditioners, hairdryers, and car vents. Additionally, wearing wraparound sunglasses or eyeglass safety shields can help block the wind outside.
- Minimizing time spent in dry environments – The air at high altitudes, in desert areas, and in airplanes can be extremely dry. When possible, it can be helpful to use a humidifier to add moisture to dry indoor air, especially during the winter.
- Periodically resting the eyes – While viewing a computer screen, reading, or performing other tasks that require visual focus, it is important to take frequent breaks and blink several times, which can help distribute tears.
- Using artificial tears – Over-the-counter eye drops can help keep the eyes lubricated, even when they don’t feel dry.
The Diagnostic Process for Dry Eye Disease
To determine the cause of dry eyes, an ophthalmologist will typically perform several diagnostic tests, which may include:
- A comprehensive eye exam and health history review
- The Schirmer tear test to measure tear volume
- Eye drops with special dyes to evaluate the tear evaporation rate
- A tear osmolarity test to analyze the water and particle composition of the tears
Treatment Options for Dry Eye Disease
Occasional or mild dry eye symptoms can often be treated with artificial tears. If possible, it is also important to address the underlying cause, such as frequently resting the eyes and running a humidifier to moisten the air. If further treatment is needed, an ophthalmologist may prescribe:
- An antibiotic to reduce eyelid inflammation
- Eye drops that contain an immunosuppressant or corticosteroid to control corneal inflammation
- Lubricating eye inserts that slowly dissolve when placed between the lower eyelid and eyeball
- A nasal spray to increase tear production
To address dry eyes caused by meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD)—which occurs when the tiny meibomian glands in eyelids become clogged and unable to produce the tear film—an ophthalmologist may suggest LipiFlow© Thermal Pulsation. During this in-office procedure, the ophthalmologist uses an innovative medical device that generates gentle heat and pressure to liquefy and massage away the blockage.
Talk With an Ophthalmologist
If you have dry eyes, your first step toward finding effective relief is finding the cause. Click here to request an appointment with Florida Medical Clinic’s Department of Ophthalmology.
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