Tears bathe the eye, washing out dust and debris and keeping the eye moist. They also contain enzymes that neutralize the microorganisms that colonize the eye. Tears are essential for good eye health.
Dry Eye Syndrome
In dry eye syndrome, the eye doesn’t produce enough tears, or the tears have a chemical composition that causes them to evaporate too quickly. Dry eye syndrome is caused by a chronic lack of sufficient lubrication and moisture on the surface of the eye. Its consequences range from subtle and constant irritation to inflammation of the eye. If left untreated, this condition can lead to pain, ulcers, or scars on the cornea, and some loss of vision. However, permanent loss of vision from dry eye is uncommon.
What Causes Dry Eyes?
Dry eye syndrome has several causes.
- It occurs as a part of the natural aging process, especially during menopause; as a side effect of many medications, or because a dry, dusty or windy climate. Home or office air conditioning or a dry heating system can dry out your eyes. Another cause is insufficient blinking, such as when staring at a computer screen or TV monitor all day.
- Dry eyes are also a symptom of systemic diseases such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren’s syndrome (a triad of dry eyes, dry mouth, and rheumatoid arthritis).
- Long-term contact lens wear is another cause; in fact, dry eyes are the most common complaint among long term contact lens wearers. Recent research indicates that contact lens wear and dry eyes can be a vicious cycle. Dry eye syndrome makes contact lenses feel uncomfortable, and the rubbing of the lenses against the conjunctiva seems to be a cause of dry eyes.
- Incomplete closure of the eyelids, eyelid disease and a deficiency of the tear-producing glands are other causes.
Treatment for Dry Eyes
Dry eye syndrome is an ongoing condition that may not be completely and permanently cured (depends on the cause), but the accompanying dryness, scratchiness and burning can be managed.
- Lubricants: Your eye care practitioner may prescribe artificial tears, which are lubricating eye drops that may alleviate the dry, scratching feeling.
- Contact lens: If you wear contact lenses, be aware that many eye drops, cannot be used while your contacts are in your eyes. Your doctor can prescribe eye drops which are safe and effective over contact lenses.
- Blocked meibomian glands: Meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD) is now recognized as a primary cause and contributor to most cases of dry eye.
- Environment. If the problem is environmental, wear sunglasses when outdoors to reduce exposure to sun, wind and dust.
- Nutrition and hydration. Doctors sometimes recommend special nutritional supplements for dry eyes. Studies have found that supplements containing omega-3 fatty acids can decrease dry eye symptoms.
- In case of persistent dry eyes, your doctor will recommend specialized tests and treatment for relief of symptoms.