Tears are essential for healthy eyes. They bathe the eye, wash out dust and debris, and keep the eye feeling moist. Tears also contain enzymes that neutralize harmful microorganisms.
Dry eye syndrome (or “dysfunctional tear syndrome”) is a chronic lack of tears (or sometimes poor quality tears) on the surface of the eye. It can lead to problems ranging from subtle burning and irritation to severe inflammation of the cornea and conjunctiva. The medical term for dry eye, keratoconjunctivitis sicca, refers to eye dryness affecting the cornea and conjunctiva.
Dry Eye Symptoms
Persistent dryness, scratchiness and a burning sensation in your eyes are symptoms of dry eyes. Another symptom of dry eyes is a “foreign body sensation,” the feeling that something is in the eye.
Ironically, dry eye syndrome can often cause your eyes to be watery. Lack of good quality lubricating tears can overstimulate production of the watery component of your tears as a protective mechanism. The poor quality (watery) tears can flush out the good quality tears, only making matters worse.
What Causes Dry Eyes?
In dry eye syndrome, the lacrimal gland or associated glands near the eye either don’t produce enough good-quality tears, or the tears are poor-quality which causes them to evaporate too quickly.
Dry eye syndrome often occurs as a part of the natural aging process, especially during menopause. Certain medications can also dry your eyes, especially antihistamines, antidepressants, certain blood pressure medicines, and birth control pills. A dry, dusty or windy climate (such that we have inWyoming), smoking, and contact lenses will also make dry eyes worse.
Central air conditioning and forced-air furnaces dry out the air in your home or office, causing dry eyes. Reading or using a computer can be a problem, since we tend to blink less frequently when we are concentrating.
Dry eyes can also be a symptom of other diseases such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, rosacea, or Sjogren’s syndrome. And dry eye syndrome is more common among women, likely due to hormone fluctuations.
If you are considering LASIK, be aware that dry eyes may disqualify you for the surgery, at least until the problem is resolved.
Treatment for Dry Eyes
Dry eye syndrome is usually a chronic condition that may not be completely curable (depending on the cause). But the symptoms of burning and scratchiness can be managed. Dr. Alden will recommend lubricating artificial tear drops that may alleviate the dry, scratchy feeling.
Omega-3 fatty acid supplements have also been shown to improve the quality of tears. You can try one or two capsules twice a day. If you notice an improvement in your dry eye symptoms after two weeks, simply continue taking the capsules.
Make sure you are well hydrated by drinking plenty of water or juice. Try to quit smoking, and avoid smoky places. If possible, use a humidifier or vaporizer in your home and office. An air purifier or air cleaner can filter dust and other particles. When outdoors, wear sunglasses to reduce exposure to sun, cold, wind, and dust. We can recommend a close-fitting wrap-around frame to effectively block wind.
Treating underlying eyelid disease such as blepharitis, can also help. This may call for antibiotic ointment plus frequent eyelid scrubs with an antibacterial shampoo.
If contact lens discomfort is the cause of your dry eyes, Dr. Alden may switch you to a different lens or have you wear your lenses for fewer hours each day.
The tips listed above are usually effective for most people. But if you have moderate to severe dry eye, more advanced treatment options may be necessary. Prescription eye drops such as Restasis can help your eyes produce more tears by reducing inflammation. And silicone punctal plugs can be inserted in the tear drainage ducts in your eyelids to keep moisture on the eye from draining too quickly. They can be inserted painlessly while you’re in our doctor’s office and normally are not felt once inserted.
Ask Dr. Alden about these options during your eye exam to see if they are right for you.
If you are experiencing dry eye symptoms, call our office at (307) 472-2020 to schedule a tear film evaluation. A thorough evaluation of your cornea and tear film by Dr. Alden will be helpful in determining what is causing your dry eye, and can help us tailor a treatment plan for your specific type of dry eye.
What about Visine or Clear Eyes?
Some over-the-counter eye drops are advertised to “get the red out.” While these drops can reduce or eliminate eye redness temporarily, they may or may not be effective at lubricating the eye, depending on the formulation.
Not only that, but the chemicals in those drops that constrict the blood vessels (the vasoconstrictors) also act as a desiccant in the eyes, making them feel even more dry. Worse yet, the vasoconstrictors are addictive. With frequent use, the effect diminishes. And over time, more and more is needed to achieve the same effect. Your eyes can end up being more red in the long run!