Dry eye is a very common condition that occurs when your eyes lack the necessary lubrication to be able to be used comfortably and maintain clear vision. You will almost certainly experience at least one episode of dry eye during your lifetime, but you may not even realize it. This is because when the symptoms are mild, they are easily overlooked, and the condition usually passes without requiring you to see your eye doctor. However, some patients go on to experience chronic dry eye. This means that although the severity of their condition may vary, they experience frequent repetitive episodes of dry eye, or their symptoms never fully go away. When someone has persistent dry eye, professional intervention is nearly always needed in order for patients to achieve clear, comfortable vision again.
Dry eye usually occurs for one of several reasons. Firstly, your eyes might not be making enough natural lubrication, aka tear film. This can happen if there is a problem with the glands that are responsible for producing tear film, such as them becoming blocked. Secondly, dry eye can be caused by an imbalance in the composition of your tear film. Tear film is made from water, oil, and proteins. Too much or too little of any of these substances can cause tear film to be less effective, resulting in dry eye. Finally, there is the possibility that the tear film isn’t staying on the surface of the eye for long enough because it is draining too quickly.
Unsurprisingly, the most common symptom of dry eye is suffering from eyes that feel dry and stiff. It may seem like your eyes feel heavy. However, these aren’t the only symptoms associated with dry eye. There are many others, including:
- Sensitivity to light
- Struggling to focus on objects
- Stinging, burning or scratchy-feeling eyes
- Stringy mucus in or around the eyes
- Feeling like you have grit or sand in your eyes
- Problems with night vision
- Difficulty wearing contact lenses
- Blurred vision
- Excessive watering of the eyes, which is the body’s natural response to the irritation caused by dry eye
In dry eye, both eyes are usually affected at the same time however the severity with which you experience symptoms may vary slightly.
There are certain factors that could potentially increase your risk of suffering from dry eye. These include:
- Being over the age of 50
- Wearing contact lenses
- Spending time in cold, windy or dusty environments
- Spending time in air-conditioned or heated environments
- Excessive screen time
- Taking certain medications
- Suffering from specific medical conditions that affect the eyes
Drinking alcohol regularly
Fortunately, there are many things you can do to help combat dry eye. Many patients rely on a combination of the following in order to achieve the best relief from their symptoms.
Excessive screen time is one of the biggest contributing factors to the development of dry eye. This is because when we look at screens, our rate of blinking dramatically decreases. Regular breaks are crucial to prevent dry eye and other screen-related issues from occurring. This is because they allow the eyes to refocus on an object that is farther away, enabling them to relax.
There is a wide range of eye drops that can be used to help treat dry eye. These are known as artificial tears. Since there are so many, you may need to try a variety of different ones to find the one that provides the biggest improvement in your symptoms. If you wear contact lenses, you will need to use preservative-free artificial tears.
Inflammation of the cornea is a fairly normal occurrence in patients with dry eye. This can cause pain and blurred vision. Inflammation can also affect the way that the glands that produce tear film work. Fortunately, eye drops that contain corticosteroids or other anti-inflammatory medications can help to get this under control and improve your symptoms.
Drugs called cholinergic work by increasing tear film production and are available as eye drops, pills or gels. These may be prescribed to help alleviate your dry eye symptoms.
Punctual plugs are tiny devices that are placed into the drainage channels in the corners of your eyes to prevent tear film from draining too quickly. If this is believed to be the cause of your dry eye, punctual plugs may be the most effective treatment that we can provide.
Lipiflow treatment is recommended for patients whose dry eye is caused by blockages in the glands that produce tear film. Lipiflow uses heat and vibrations to liquefy and clear the blockages in the glands, enabling tear film to flow freely once more.
If you are concerned about dry eyes and would like more information, or to schedule an appointment with our expert eye care team, please contact our office.