Dry eye disease is a health condition where the eye does not get adequately lubricated by tears. While this condition can be caused or aggravated by many factors, it is most common in older people. It is typical when the eye's tear quality or quantity is less than normal.
People who suffer from dry eye will experience irritation of the eye surface. Subsequently, this irritation can lead to a burning or stinging sensation, mild pain in the eye, or a feeling of the presence of particles in the eye.
Symptoms of Dry Eyes
- Itchy, burning, or stinging eyes
- A feeling of the presence of particles in the eyes
- Redness and wateriness
- Increased light sensitivity
- Excessive eye mucus
- A distortion in vision or fatigue of the eye nerves
Causes of Dry Eye Disease
There are different causes of dry eyes, but a problem with the tear film located on the eye's surface is usually a common cause. The tear film has lipid, aqueous, and mucin layers. The lipid layer is the farthest from the eye surface and is an oily layer that prevents tears (the aqueous layer) from evaporating easily. The mucin layer in the tear film is the layer closest to the eye surface, and it binds the film to the eye.
Dry eye disease can occur when either of the following conditions is prevalent:
- A decreased production of tears, i.e., the aqueous layer.
- Increased evaporation of tears due to a deficiency in the lipid layer.
Decreased Production of The Aqueous Layer
When your eyes do not produce enough aqueous fluid in the aqueous layer of your tear film, your eyes will not get enough lubrication, and dry eyes may result. This condition is medically referred to as keratoconjunctivitis sicca and can develop from the following:
- Damage to the corneal nerve.
- Advancement in age.
- The drying effect of medications like hormone replacement drugs, decongestants, antihistamines, and medications for Parkinson's disease.
- Health conditions like vitamin A deficiency, thyroid disorders, Sjogren's syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, and allergic eye disease.
Increased Evaporation of Tears
Tears evaporate faster from the eye when there is a problem with the lipid layer of the tear film. This problem stems mainly from a decreased production of oil in the Meibomian gland (the production site of tear oil) and can result from:
- Vitamin A deficiency
- A malfunction of the Meibomian gland known as Posterior blepharitis
- Inadequate blinking
- Direct exposure to dry air and smoke
- Improper closure of the eyelids
- Chemical content of eye drops.
Treatment/ Management Tips
- Always protect the eyes from direct contact with wind or air from dryers and fans.
- Humidify the air in your living space to reduce the risk of dry eyes.
- Drink enough water, as hydration also enhances the production of the aqueous fluid in the tear film.
- Reduce the intake of caffeine and other medications that negatively impacts the water quantity in the aqueous layer.
- Use water-based and oil eye drops to make up for reduced aqueous fluid and oil production, respectively.
- Reduce the strain you place on your eyes by taking regular breaks from tasks that involve a continuous use of the eye.
- Blink as often as possible.
- Stay away from smoke.
- Increase the oil production in your Meibomian gland by including Omega-3 food sources in your diet.
- Use warm compresses on the eye to open up clogged oil glands.
When left untreated, dry eyes can lead to the following:
- Inflammation, severe irritation, and abrasion of the eye surface.
- An increased risk of contracting an eye infection.
- Reduced vision.
If you do feel that you can no longer manage or control your symptoms then we would advise you to speak with your doctor or speak with an optician who may be able to provide some medical intervention to help you.