Dry Eye Syndrome

Woman adding eyedrops to eye

What Is Dry Eye Syndrome and How Can It Be Treated?

Dry eyes sound like a minor concern until you’re dealing with it every single day. Few people realize just how disruptive simple eye dryness can be to your life. Constantly being distracted and uncomfortable by itchy, red, or watering eyes. The itching drives you to distraction, the redness is commented on socially and watering can get so bad you can hardly drive.

Do any of these experiences sound like your life or the life of someone you know? Then, you or your loved one may suffer from dry eye syndrome. This is a combination of symptoms with a wide variety of causes. Fortunately, dry eye can be treated. This page will tell you everything you need to know about the basics of diagnosing and treating uncomfortable dry eyes.

Dry eye syndrome occurs when your tears can’t do their job. The human eye is designed to generate tears, a combination of water, salt, and oils. These passive tears are meant to constantly lubricate your eyes. Tears keep your eyes from drying out and help to casually deflect or wash away any dust in the air.

Dry eyes occur when one of two things happens – either your tear ducts are not producing enough tears or your tears are not the right formula to properly protect your eyes. Dry eyes may occur, for example, if your tears evaporate too quickly because there are not enough oils, leaving your eyes dry and itchy.

These tear deficiencies can be caused by a number of conditions, illnesses, or medications, and some populations are more at risk of dry eyes than others. Keep reading to explore the symptoms of dry eyes, causes of dry eye, and treatments that can help.

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Causes of Dry Eye

There are three types of mechanical cause for dry eye: Reduced tear production, increased tear evaporation, or the wrong tear mixture. However, what causes these problems can vary widely from environmental factors to illness or medication. There are many different things that can influence your eye’s ability to generate the right amount of viscous tears to keep your eyes moist and protected. For many patients, more than one cause applies.

Reduced Tear Production

When your eyes are dry due to a lack of tears, this means your tear ducts are still producing healthy tears but not enough to keep your eyes moist and healthy. Reduced tear production can be the result of a medical imbalance, deficiency, or condition slowing the function of your tear ducts to a less than optimal rate of tear production. For eye moisture, rather than crying, this means that your eyes are not producing enough moisture to lubricate fully every time you blink.

Causes of Reduced Tear Production

  • Aging – Patients over 40 are more likely to experience natural reduced tear production as a result of aging.
  • Hormonal Changes – Women are particularly susceptible to dry eye, especially after menopause or in response to other significant hormonal changes like pregnancy or a change in hormonal birth control.
  • Medical Conditions – Several medical conditions can incidentally cause your tear ducts to reduce their production. These include:
    • Diabetes
    • Rheumatoid Arthritis
    • Psoriasis
    • Lupus
    • Scleroderma
    • Sjogren’s Syndrome
    • Thyroid Disorders
    • Vitamin A Deficiency
    • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Medications – Certain medications can have a similar effect, reducing your eye’s tear production rate. These can include:
    • Antihistamines
    • Decongestants
    • Hormone Replacement Therapy
    • Antidepressants
    • Blood Pressure Medication
    • Acne Treatments
    • Birth Control
  • Damage to Your tear Glands – If your tear glands are damaged from an injury, harsh environment, or radiation, then tear production may reduce.

Risk Factors

  • Over 50
  • Harsh Environment
  • Contact Lenses
  • Women / Hormonal Changes
  • Vitamin A Deficiency

Symptoms of Dry Eye

The symptoms for dry eyes are not always the same for each person. They vary depending both on the cause of the dryness, environmental conditions, and each person’s unique physiology. Take a look through the symptoms and see which ones apply to you and which ones you may not have even realized were related to your dry eye problems.

  • Stinging and Burning – Stinging and burning is the prominent indicator that your eye or eyes are uncomfortable. Either that they are too dry to wash out particles or too dry to remain moist and comfortable.
  • Redness – When your eyes are irritated, they become red both around the lids and in the white area of your eyeball.
  • Scratchy Sensation – When your eyes can’t lubricate properly, your eyelids themselves may feel scratchy all the time because they are not moist enough to eject dust or slide comfortably over your eyes.
  • Feeling Like There’s Something in Your Eye – This is also common with dry-eye. You are feeling are the dust particles that are not being effectively washed away or your eyelid sticking because it is not properly lubricated.
  • Constantly Watery Eyes – Watering is another common response to irritation. Yes, dry eye can result in watering that is not viscous enough to soothe the burn.
  • Stringy Mucus Around Eyes – Dry eye can also occur if your tears are too thick, leaving a stringy mucus that doesn’t soothe or wash the eye as it should.
  • Blurred Vision – Blurred vision is often a result of other symptoms, as they reduce your eye’s ability to function.
  • Eye Fatigue – Lack of moisture may cause your eyes to become weary to the point of discomfort.
  • Poor Night Vision or Difficulty Driving at Night – When your eyes cannot focus, you may have trouble adjusting to dark roads or seeing past bright headlights while driving at night.

Increased Tear Evaporation

Tear evaporation is not a problem with your tear ducts (unless it’s a tear composition problem, see next section). Instead, it is the result of environmental or eye mechanical problems that create the standard dry eye symptoms. Wind and other air environmental factors can play a major role, as can contacts. But tear evaporation problems may also relate to the function of your eyelids.

Causes for Increased Tear Evaporation

  • Constant Exposure to Dry, Hot, or Smokey Air – If your home or work environment involves constant exposure to incredibly dry or drying air, this can be the cause of your dry eye syndrome as your tears are evaporating or blowing away too fast to be of use.
  • Blinking Less Often than You Should – Some people blink less often when they are reading, concentrating, or driving. This may also relate to physical or neurological problems for people who forget to blink involuntarily.
  • Eyelid Malformations or Dysfunction – Your eyelid is responsible for spreading your passive moisturizing tears. If the eyelid does not blink correctly or is misshapen in some way, it will not moisten fully.
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Tear Composition Problems

In some cases, eyes experience dryness because the tears aren’t made right. Your tears are made of three different layers. The oil layer on top is your outside protection and keeps the surface of your eye smooth. It also protects your eye from evaporation. The inner layer is watery and made up of the tears that moisturize and constantly wash your eye. And the inner layer is a thin mucus that helps distribute the tears.

If anyone of the three layers is not working right, you can experience dry eye and discomfort. Your tears may be too thin and evaporate too easily, or they may be too thick and form as stringy goo instead of a thin liquid coating.

Causes of Tear Composition Problems

  • Blocked Meibomian Gland – The meibomian gland is what produces the oil for the outer layer of your protective tears. When the gland is blocked, you can’t produce enough oil.
    • More common for patients with rosacea or blepharitis (inflamed eyelid edges)
  • Medical Conditions – Certain illnesses can potentially cause your tears to change in composition.
  • Hormonal Changes – Significant hormone changes may affect your eye dryness or tear composition.

Conditional Causes of Dry Eye

Dry eyes can also be caused by environmental conditions or life events that affect your eyes.

  • Harsh Environment
    • Constant wind, hot air, smoke, and chemical exposure can all cause irritation and dry eyes.
    • Can cause long-term symptoms or damage to the eyes.
  • LASIK Surgery
    • Laser eye surgery, commonly known as LASIK can cause dry eyes.
    • Temporary for most patients.
  • Tear Gland Damage
    • If you suffer an injury or condition that damages your tear glands or eyelids, this can affect your ability to keep your eyes moist.
  • Contact Lenses
    • Many people do not produce enough tears to comfortably wear contacts and experience dry eye as a result.

Treatments for Dry Eye Syndrome

  • Artificial Tear Drops – You can buy artificial tears in dropper bottles, aka eye drops. These will moisturize your eye in the way that your natural tears or eyelids cannot. Many people only need to use eye drops a few times a day.
  • Punctual Plugs in Tear Ducts – Smaller than a grain of rice, these biocompatible plugs prevent your eyes from draining tears, which can cause types of medical-related dry eye.
  • Prescription Eye Drops – Restasis – If your eyes are dry due to constant inflammation, Restasis is the prescription eye drop that is commonly prescribed. It is a minor immunosuppressant to stop your eyes from fighting dust with too much enthusiasm.
  • Lipiflow – Lipoflow treats blocked meibomian glands by opening them up and allowing the oil (lipid) to flow and coat your eyeball.

Finding the Right Treatment for Your Dry Eye

It is possible to treat many of the symptoms of dry eye at home or with over-the-counter medications. However, to solve the underlying problem or treat more severe symptoms, you will need the help of a medical professional. If you or someone you know is suffering from ongoing dry eye syndrome, we can help. Contact our office today to schedule an appointment.