Eye Diseases Dry Eye Syndrome

Dry eye syndrome is a chronic lack of natural moisture and lubrication in the eye, resulting from a problem with the quality or quantity of tears. According to eye experts, dry eye syndrome is one of the most commonly treated ailments by eye doctors. In fact, an estimated 10 million Americans, or 20 percent of the adult population, suffer from dry eyes with women being more prone to dry eyes than men.

Tears: The Basics

Tears are composed of three layers, including

  1. the mucus layer covering the cornea
  2. the middle aqueous layer which provides moisture, oxygen and other nutrients to the cornea
  3. the outer layer that seals the tear film to the eye to help prevent evaporation.

When a problem occurs with any one of these layers, the tears can’t adequately bathe the eyes, keep them moist and flush out irritants.

Tears are created in several glands around the eye. For example, tears from small glands in the eyelids make oil and mucus layers. When the eyes blink, the eyelids help to spread the tears over the eyes to keep the eyes moist. Tears can also be produced as a reflex to protect the eyes from an outside stimulus ranging from an emotional reaction to a potential physical injury. However, these “reflex tears” aren’t particularly useful for those with dry eyes because there is a fundamental problem with the quality of them.

Dry Eye Snydrome

Causes of Dry Eye

When the eyes are not producing enough tears or poor quality tears, you will suffer from dry eye. Some factors that make you more prone to dry eye include:

  • Aging: As we grow older, our bodies produce less oil, adversely affecting our tear film.
  • Being a woman: Women tend to have drier skin than men.
  • Climate changes: Hot, dry or windy climates are more likely to trigger dry eye syndrome.
  • Exposure to cigarette smoke: Smoke tends to dry out our eyes faster than we can produce tears to keep them moist.
  • High altitudes: Higher altitudes have drier climates, drying out our eyes easier.
  • Hormonal changes: While the amount of hormones our bodies produce can be affected by medication we take or aging naturally, changing levels of hormones affects the quality and quantity of tears we produce.
  • Medical conditions and diseases: Dry eyes can be a symptom of a more serious underlying condition, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus erythematosus.
  • Prolonged reading or computer work: Engaging in activities in which your eyes are actively staring for extended periods of time will dry out your eyes.
  • Taking certain medications: Some medications have side effects, including dry eye syndrome.
  • Thermal or chemical burns: Burns can damage the eyes’ structures that produce tears.
  • Vitamin deficiencies: If your body doesn’t have proper nutrients, many of its natural processes will be interrupted, including the production of tears.
  • Wearing of contact lenses: Extended use of contact lenses interrupts natural tear production.

Common Symptoms

If you have dry eyes, you may experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  • blurred vision that may improve with repeated blinking
  • burning
  • excessive watering of the eyes
  • increased discomfort after prolonged periods of reading, watching television or working on a computer
  • irritation
  • itchiness
  • redness or red eyes.

Diagnosing Dry Eyes

If you are concerned that you might be suffering from dry eye syndrome, contact your optometrist or ophthalmologist for diagnosis and treatment. Your doctor can determine the underlying cause for your discomfort in a variety of ways, including adding special drops to your eyes to determine the level of moisture. Your doctor will also measure how quickly the tears evaporate and evaluate the quality of your tear film.

Dry Eye Treatment Options

Because dry eye syndrome has a variety of causes, treatment for this condition varies according to the root of the problem. Some patients, for example, may find the occasional use of eye drops, also called artificial tears, sufficient to provide dry eye relief. Because these products vary (some are thinner, others are thicker), choose an option that meets your needs. Experts caution dry eye sufferers to use preservative-free drops, as they contain fewer additives that can cause additional irritation. In more severe cases of dry eyes, lubricating ointments can be used.

Other treatment options include the insertion of plugs to close the opening of the tear drain. These plugs, which can be temporary or permanent, trap the tears on the eye, keeping it moist. Depending on the cause of a person’s dry eyes, small lifestyle adjustments may correct the problem. For example, drinking more water will hydrate the body from within. Other changes include blinking more frequently, not rubbing your eyes, wearing sunglasses outdoors, using a humidifier indoors and ensuring proper nutrition.

Some doctors recommend eating more essential fatty acids (the “good fats”) in order to treat dry eye syndrome. They suggest eating 12 almonds or pecans daily along with three 500 milligrams of primrose oil capsules two to three times per day.