Everyone has cried, whether as a baby or just last night. Our eyes are amazingly in tune to our emotions and our thoughts, and they do so much without us even blinking an eye (pun intended). We often think of tears related only to crying, to times of emotional distress or extreme happiness (or while cutting up an onion). But what we don’t think of as often is that tears are always necessary for the nourishment of our eyes. There may not be tears streaming down our cheeks, but there should always be tears and water in our eye sockets to keep them lubricated and for you to have clear vision. And, unfortunately, there are times when this isn’t the case, when something called dry eye develops.
What Is Dry Eye and What Causes It?
Dry eye, or Keratoconjunctivitis sicca if you want to use the formal name, is essentially the condition when your eye is not able to produce enough tears to lubricate and nourish the eye. Here are a few of the different things that could cause this to occur:
- An imbalance in your tear-duct system
Tears are more than just what is often presumed to be saltwater. A tear is a careful balance of water, oil, mucus, and antibodies and proteins that all work together to create moisture, protection from infection, and carefully-spread lubrication. Dry eye can develop when this system becomes imbalanced.
- Naturally aging process
Our eyes, like the rest of our bodies, slow down as we get older. Sometimes things just don’t work as well as they used to, and that’s natural. Dry eye can sometimes simply be a result of time and age.
- Other diseases that affect the eyes
There are other diseases that can affect the production of tears, such as rheumatoid arthritis and collagen vascular disease. Contact us or your primary doctor if you have any questions about your current conditions and how they could be affecting your eyes.
- Environmental factors
The environment is an often overlooked factor that can heavily affect your eyes. For instance, if you live in a city where smog or smoke is prevalent, that may be a contributing factor to dry eye. Also being in a dry or windy climate can cause dryness in our eyes. Any of these situations can increase tear evaporation which leads to the dry eye condition.
Your personal environment can also contribute to dry eye. For instance, when staring at a computer screen for long periods of time, you blink less, contributing to the drying of your eyes.
What Are the Symptoms of Dry Eye?
- Light sensitivity
- Gritty feeling in eye
- Redness of eye
- Blurriness of vision
- Excessively watery eyes (this one may seem surprising to you, but in an effort to fix the problem, your eyes may overcompensate which leads to watery eyes)
Ways to Prevent Dry Eye
Although some of the contributing factors of dry eye are out of our hands to prevent, there are some simple ways to lessen your chance of getting the condition later.
- Try to remember to blink regularly if you’re on the computer for a long period of time. Or, because blinking isn’t something we regularly think about, follow the simple 20-20-20 rule that we also use to prevent general eye-strain: every 20 minutes, look at an object at least 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds.
- Wear sunglasses outside to protect your eyes from the sun and the wind.
- Consider taking an omega-3 fatty acid supplement. These are shown to help produce and restore lipids, which are a key component in the production of tears.
- Consult with your doctor. This is a general rule you can follow for a lot of situations throughout your life. If something has changed health-wise, consult your doctor. If you have concerns about how a current condition can affect other parts of your body, consult your doctor. If you have questions about how medication you’re taking can affect you, consult your doctor. It’s a rule of life.
How Dry Eye Is Treated
Though there are some ways to lessen your chance of getting dry eye, sometimes it’s unavoidable. However, it’s a condition that can easily be treated:
- Artificial tears
This treatment—which can be found over-the-counter—is one of the main treatments of dry eye. These are simply artificial tears to supplement your own eye’s production of them. Not every kind works for everyone, so consult with a doctor first to help find which may be best for you.
- Conserving tears
Sometimes to keep as many tears as possible, it’s necessary to block your tear-drainage ducts in a process known as temporary punctal occlusion. These can be done with a temporary dissolvable or removable plug, or it can be done surgically, which is the more permanent solution.
- Lifestyle Changes
While these might not be a complete solution, there are ways to prevent further irritation and to lessen your symptoms once you’re diagnosed with dry eye. For instance, make a conscious effort to blink frequently. Also, make sure to drink eight to ten glasses of water a day to stay hydrated. And finally, avoid rubbing your eyes. They may be itchy, but rubbing them will only make it worse.
These are just the basics to the dry eye condition. If you have any other questions about it or about possible treatment options, feel free to contact us for an appointment.
At Williamson Eye Institute, we are committed to preserving and protecting our patients’ eye health throughout their lives. To find out more, visit our website or call our office to schedule a personal consultation. You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.