What’s With These Dry Eyes?

July 17, 2022

man with dry eyes

If you are bothered by occasional dry eyes, you are not alone! Many people experience dry eyes from time to time as a result of normal tear production not being able to provide adequate eye lubrication. Occasional dry eyes are usually the result of seasonal allergies, a very dry environment such as an airplane or other environmental reasons. Dry eye in these instances are usually fairly easily remedied by using over the counter eye moisture drops.

But if your eyes are dry most of the time, there is a good chance you have an underlying condition that is affecting the ability of your tear ducts to produce adequate moisture. Let’s get a closer look at some of these along with what to do about them.

Dry Eye Symptoms

Symptoms of dry eye can include stinging and burning or a feeling of scratchiness. You also might feel like you have something in your eyes. Your eyes may become red and irritated, become sensitive to light and you may notice the appearance of stringy mucus in your eyes.

If you wear contact lenses, you may have difficulty wearing them. Blurred vision and eye fatigue can also occur and you may notice that you have difficulty driving at night.

Underlying Causes Of Dry Eyes

Regardless of the underlying cause, dry eyes always signify a disruption in the normal tear film, which has three layers. These three layers, the fatty oils, aqueous fluid and mucus, work together to keep your eyes lubricated and moist. A dysfunction in any one of the three layers can cause problems.

There are also certain risk factors that make it more likely that you will experience dry eyes. These risk factors include being older than 50, as tear production diminishes as you get older. Also being female puts you at greater risk, as does wearing contact lenses, having a history of corrective refractive surgery, and consuming a diet low in Vitamin A as well as Omega-3 fatty acids.

Besides aging and the other risk factors outlined above, there are certain diseases that can cause dry eyes as part of their process and these include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Sjogren's syndrome, thyroid disease, allergic eye disease, and graft vs. host disease, an immune condition which can occur in transplant patients in which immune cells in the donor tissue (the graft) attack the recipient’s (the host) tissue.

Dry eyes can also be a side effect of certain medications including decongestants and antihistamines, drugs for high blood pressure, some antidepressants, hormone replacement therapy, as well as medications for acne, Parkinson’s and birth control drugs.

Sometimes dry eyes can be caused by an increase in the evaporation of tears. Reasons for this increased evaporation can include a dysfunction of the meibomian glands, which are small glands at the edge of the eyelids which secrete the oil layer component of tears. Increased evaporation can also be the result of a decrease in blinking which can occur in diseases such as Parkinson’s or may be a result of prolonged working at a computer, reading or driving. Environmental conditions can also contribute to increased evaporation, such as exposure to wind, smoke, or very dry air.

Dry eyes, especially if the condition is chronic, can lead to damage to the cornea (the clear, outer surface of the eye) which can become inflamed and scarred and lead to vision loss. People with chronic dry eyes are also prone to eye infections and also have a decreased quality of life, as they find it hard to do things other people enjoy such as reading or working at a computer.

New Research On Depression And Dry Eye Disease

One of the most interesting new areas of research into dry eyes concerns depression. Past studies have shown that people who suffer from chronic dry eye disease have greater rates of depression. But new research shows when chronic dry eyes and depression are both present, the dry eye symptoms in these patients seem to be worse. What’s not clear is this: is the depression somehow causing the severity of the dry eye disease to increase or is it the severity of the dry eye disease that is causing the depression? The important thing to keep in mind, for patients as well as health care providers, is that the two are clearly linked.

What To Do About Dry Eyes

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of dry eye you can try moisturizing eye drops as a first step.  Make sure that you do not use any eye drops that decreases redness in the eye as they cause the blood vessels in the eye to constrict and make dry eye symptoms worse.  Also try to find drops that do not have preservatives in them if that is within your budget.  Also increase the humidity in your home as that will have an impact of the evaporation of the tears in your eyes.  For severe cases of dry eyes, it’s possible to get an eye gel that slows evaporation of tears, but this can be goopy in the eye so usually used at night. 

It’s also very important to see an ophthalmologist or optometrist to understand precisely what is wrong and the best course of treatment.

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