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 eyes, 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 (we tend to dry out as we age), 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.
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of dry eye and they are not alleviated by simple measures such as a change in your environment or the temporary use of moisturizing eye drops, make an appointment with your physician, or an eye specialist who will determine if there is an underlying cause or if necessary, refer you to an eye specialist (Ophthalmologist).