Dry eye is a very common eye problem. It is described as a combination of different symptoms that create an imbalance in the tear structure or production resulting in the inability of the tears to properly lubricate the eye. Dry eye can be a chronic issue, especially for women and the elderly.
In the normal eye, tears spread across the cornea to lubricate and nourish the tissue. This creates a clear image and a smooth movement of the eyelid over the cornea. Any excess or extra tears are normally removed through a drainage duct located at the inner part of the upper and lower lids. This drains into the back of the nose and is why you can sometimes taste eye drops that are inserted into the eye.
What causes dry eye?
Dry eyes are a result of a decrease in either the production or quality of the tears. Tear production naturally decreases with age but can also be reduced due to certain medical conditions or medications. The quality of the tears can be altered by environmental conditions such as windy or dry climates, or a deficit in either the oily outer layer, watery middle layer, or mucous inner layer of the tears.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of dry eye may be pain, sensitivity to light, a dry or sandy feeling in the eye, a feeling of a foreign body in the eye, redness, itching, or blurring of vision. Often dry eyes feel watery, making the diagnosis of dry eyes a little surprising to the patient.
How are dry eyes diagnosed?
Many times dry eye can be diagnosed by a good history of your symptoms. Often the appearance of the dryness on the eyes does not match the level of symptoms from the disease. An examination of the external structures of the eyes is important also. The cornea, conjunctiva, and eye lids all may have signs of dry eyes on them.
Sometimes a examination and measurement of the tears is necessary. A special dye may be inserted in your eyes to evaluate the consistency, structure and amount of tears that are on your eye.
How are dry eyes treated?
Unfortunately, treatments for dry eye are not always a cure. Since this can be a chronic condition or may be exacerbated by your environment a management approach is key.
The first and oftentimes easiest step to treating dry eyes is the addition of artificial tears to the eye. There are many over the counter artificial tears that can be used depending on what is causing the dryness.
Medications may be needed for more severe forms of dry eyes. The goal of these medications is to help increase the quality and quantity of tears that are being produced as well as to decrease the inflammation that is common with chronic dryness of the eyes.
Changes in your diet or nutritional supplements may also help with the quality of your tear production. Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish or leafy vegetables is sometimes recommended.
Additionally there are some methods that may be used in the office to help preserve the tears that you are currently making. Small plugs made of silicone or collagen may be placed in the drainage ducts in your eyelids to slow the drainage of tears away from your eye. More permanently, a surgical procedure to close the tear ducts may be recommended. This is done in the office and typically has little to no recovery time.
What can I do to avoid dry eyes?
There are a few things you can implement in your lifestyle that may help to prevent your eyes from drying out. It is important to remember to blink regularly, especially when using a computer, tablet, or phone. Studies have shown that we blink about 1/3 as often when using such devices. A humidifier at home or in your office may help to reduce the rate at which your eyes dry also. Sunglasses may help to reduce the amount of wind that is getting to your eyes when outside. Lastly, a healthy diet or the addition of nutritional supplements can help to decrease they dryness in your eyes by promoting a healthy tear film.
If you have dry eyes or any of the symptoms mentioned here call and make an appointment for an eye exam today!
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