Dry eye syndrome (DES) is a chronic condition that develops when your eyes do not produce and maintain enough tears to keep the eye’s surface lubricated resulting in multiple symptoms that range from person to person. This can be due to a reduction in tear production or increased tear evaporation from a lack of lipid in the tears that stem from oil glands in the eyelids. The effects can range from minor dryness and discomfort to pain, blurred vision and frequent infections.
Symptoms of Dry Eye Disease
Symptoms of dry eye syndrome can vary depending on the severity of the condition but can include:
- Dry, itchy eyes
- Burning or stinging
- Watery eyes
- Blurred vision
- Foreign body sensation
The main function of tears is to maintain the health of the cornea of your eye by washing away foreign matter and ensuring that the surface of your eye remains moist, smooth and clear. Tears also rinse away dust particles from your eyes and contain enzymes that protect your eyes from bacteria that can cause infections. Dry Eye Disease is a condition that develops when the amount of tears produced is not sufficient to maintain the moisture balance in your eye. This can result in that scratchy sensation, a continuous feeling of dryness, stinging and a sensation of a foreign body in your eye. Ironically in an effort to fight off the condition, dry eyes can cause you to produce excessive tears, which is why some people experience watery eyes.
Causes of Dry Eye Disease
Dry eyes can occur naturally as a result of aging and hormonal changes. It can also result from taking certain medications that reduce tear production such as antihistamines, blood pressure medications and antidepressants. Environmental factors can also play a role in drying out the eyes and DED is common in areas where the climate is dry, dusty and windy. Home air conditioners or heating systems and excessive time spent staring at a computer or television screen can also dry out eyes and exacerbate symptoms due to the lack of blinking while staring at our screens.
Individuals that suffer from certain medical conditions such as diabetes, lupus, arthritis and thyroid problems are more vulnerable to developing DED. Other causes can be a history of eye surgery including LASIK, certain conditions in which the eyelids don’t close properly or extended contact lens use.
Diagnosis of Dry Eye Disease
Typically, dry eye disease can be diagnosed through a comprehensive eye exam and a description of your symptoms. For people who have more consistent and/or severe symptoms, the doctor will do additional testing that measures how quickly your tears evaporate from the surface of your eye and take an image of the oil glands in your eyelids.
Treatment for Dry Eyes
There are many treatment options for dry eyes which are highly dependent upon the cause and severity of the condition. Many mild forms of DED can be alleviated using artificial tears or lubricant eye drops to make up for the lack of natural tears usually produced by your eyes. If over-the-counter drops don’t alleviate your symptoms, your doctor might prescribe prescription drops that actually stimulate tear production or steroids for short-term relief.
A factor that often contributes to dry eye disease is blocked Meibomian glands or Meibomian gland dysfunction. Our eyelids have small oil glands in them and the oils produced help to coat and protect the surface of the eye. When these glands aren’t functioning properly the tears evaporate more quickly and environmental irritants can cause more discomfort without the protective later. If this is the case hot compresses may be prescribed. In more severe cases of Meibomian gland dysfunction Dr. Munoz may recommend low level light therapy or radiofrequency treatment. Both low level light therapy (LLLT) and radiofrequency treatment heat up the area around the eyes to help stimulate the draining of blocked Meibomian glands.
It is possible that the eye doctor may also recommend that you limit or refrain from contact lens use for a certain amount of time or switch to a different brand or type of contact lens which will reduce dehydration.
Preventing Dry Eyes
If the cause of your dry eyes is something external or environmental, eliminating that cause may reduce or resolve the symptoms. Avoid dry environments, hair dryers, heaters and fans (particularly directed toward the eyes), smoky environments and wear eye protection such as wrap around glasses or goggles when in dusty or windy areas. Use a humidifier to add moisture to dry indoor air. If working on computer or watching television, make sure to take frequent breaks and blink purposefully as our natural tendency is to reduce our blink rate when staring at a screen. Also avoid rubbing your eyes as this can further irritate them. Staying hydrated by drinking at least 8 to 10 glasses of water per day can also help.
Dry eye disease is a chronic and often frustrating condition but there is no reason to endure dry, itchy and uncomfortable eyes, especially since there are so many treatment options to increase moisture and comfort. It’s also important to realize that because this is a chronic disease that needs consistent treatment. At Modern Eyez we have brought in some of the latest technology to treat dry eyes. Dr. Munoz will work with you to create a long term strategy to keep your eyes as comfortable as possible.