Have you ever felt having dry eyes? It’s the eye condition where the eyes do not make enough tears to lubricate the eyes. In some cases, though the eyes produce tears, they evaporate too quickly.
Having dry eyes is quite common and it occurs when the tears are not able to provide ample lubrication for the eyes. The tears may become inadequate for several reasons.
Dry eyes happen when the quantity and quality of the tears fail to keep the eye surface lubricated enough to feel comfortable. Some experts say that dry eye affects millions of people in the United States alone, and many more millions across the globe.
An online poll revealed that about half of Americans (48 percent) of 18 years old and above have dry eyes. In 2012, statistics showed that more than 26 million of people in the United States suffer from dry eyes and the number could increase to more than 29 million in the next ten years.
Dry eye is also a chronic problem and most people who have it may experience eye irritation and discomfort.
The symptoms of dry eyes are just mild for most people and in some cases, it can be painful. These include:
- Burning sensation and red eyes
- Eye dryness, soreness, and grittiness, as if there are sand particles inside. These may get worse throughout the day.
- The eyelids stick together upon waking up
- Blurred vision, which is temporary
- A stinging sensation in the eyes
- Sensitivity to light
- Difficulty in wearing contact lenses and in driving at night
- Water eyes, as the body’s response to eye irritation
- Eye fatigue
Dry eyes can happen when the complex tear production process has been altered due to many causes. This condition is caused by the lack of adequate tears. The mixture of fatty oils, water, and mucus needs to be balanced to provide the needed lubrication. For some individuals, however, decreased tear production may affect the lubrication of the eyes and there is also the imbalance of the ingredients needed to produce tears.
Reduced tear production
Dry eyes can happen when the person is not able to produce adequate amounts of tears. The medical term for this is keratoconjunctivitis sicca. The most common causes include:
- Some medical conditions-lupus, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren’s syndrome, vitamin A deficiency, thyroid diseases and scleroderma.
- Laser eye surgery which can lead to temporary decreased tear production
- Tear gland damage from inflammation or radiation therapy
- Some medicines like antihistamines, hormone replacement therapy, antidepressants, decongestants and high blood pressure drugs.
Increased evaporation of tears
Aside from the production of tears, the hastened evaporation of tears may also lead to dry eyes. The most common causes include:
- Exposure to dry air, smoke, and wind
- Problems with the eyelids like ectropion, which is the turning out of the eyelids and entropion, the turning in of the eyelid.
- Blinking less often, when happens when the person is concentrating on something like working on a computer, driving or reading a book.
Imbalance in the composition of tears
The tears contain oil, mucus, and water. The measurements of these should be balanced to create a lubricating film to protect the eyes. If there are problems in any of the ingredients, it may lead to dry eyes.
Some factors can increase your risk of dry eyes. These include:
Age – People who are more than 50 years old are at a higher risk of developing dry eyes.
Gender- Being a woman may contribute to having dry eyes. Women experience various hormonal changes throughout their lifetimes, such as during menarche, pregnancy, and menopause.
Menopause – Post-menopausal men are at a heightened risk of having dry eyes than most men of the same age.
Eating a diet low in vitamin A – Vitamin A is essential for a clear vision and prevention of eye problems. Eating a diet low in vitamin A, which is found in broccoli, carrots, and liver, will help reduce the risk of dry eyes.
Outdoor environment – In some places, the arid climates and dry winds may increase the evaporation of tears from the eyes.
Indoor environment – In some cases, when the indoor environment is too dry, it could also dry the eyes. Air conditioning, heaters, and fans can dramatically reduce the indoor humidity and may increase the rate of tear evaporation.
Using the computer too long – People who use the computer for several hours or use a smartphone for long periods, they blink less often, leading to increased tear evaporation.
Wearing contact lenses – It might be hard to determine the ideal period a person can use contact lenses. However, these devices have been tied to dry eyes. This is one of the reasons why most people prefer eyeglasses compared to contact lenses. Also, if you’re using contact lenses, there are artificial tears used to lubricate dry eyes.
Problems with the eyelids – When a person cannot completely close the eyelids when they’re sleeping or blinking may increase the risk of having dry eyes.
Medicines – Some medicines may cause dry eyes including antidepressants, blood pressure drugs, birth control pills, and antihistamines.
Frequent flying – Pilots are at risk of having dry eyes since the air in the cabins of airplanes is dry. This increases as the number of flights increase, too.
Despite the fact that eye syndrome may make you feel uncomfortable, it does not usually cause any severe problems. However, a person with untreated dry eyes may also lead to two complications – conjunctivitis and inflammation of the cornea.
Conjunctivitis – The inflammation of the conjunctiva is called conjunctivitis, which affects the layer of the cells that cover the white area of the eyeball. This is self-limiting, which means there is no specific treatment needed for it.
Inflammation of the cornea – In some cases, severe and untreated dry eyes may lead to corneal damage, called keratitis. This damage can lead to corneal ulceration and infection.
Dry eyes can be diagnosed through a comprehensive eye examination, conducted by an eye doctor. First, the doctor will conduct tests to evaluate the quality and quantity of tear production in the eyes.
The doctor will first measure the volume of the years through the Schirmer test. Another test is to determine the quality of the test. A special dye in eye drops will be used to examine the surface condition of the eyes.
The treatment for dry eyes is geared toward controlling the symptoms of the disease. However, some people may have recurrent episodes for the rest of their lives. There is no cure for dry eyes, but management steps to control the symptoms and make the patient feel more comfortable.
The treatment also depends if the condition is caused by tears that evaporate too quickly, decreased the production of tears and if there is an underlying condition.
Lubricating eye drops
The doctor may also recommend lubricant treatments that can be used to provide artificial tears. These lubricants replace the missing water in tears but they do not contain the needed antibodies and vitamins that normal tears contain.
If the underlying problem is inflammation in and around the eye, anti-inflammatory medicines and treatments will be helpful in alleviating the swelling. The most common anti-inflammatory drug is corticosteroid eye drops and ointments.
Prescription drugs are used to treat dry eyes, such as:
Drugs to reduce inflammation – Drugs are used to reduce inflammation like corticosteroids and antibiotics if there is an infection.
Eye drops for inflammation – Swelling of the eye surface may be controlled and managed by prescription eye drops. Some examples are corticosteroids and cyclosporine.
Tear-stimulating drugs – These drugs dubbed as cholinergic are helpful in increasing the production of tears.
Closing the tear ducts to prevent loss of tears – The doctor may recommend this treatment to keep the tears from evaporating from the eyes too quickly.
Special contact lenses – These contact lenses are designed to manage dry eyes.
Unblocking the oil glands – Sometimes, dry eyes are caused by blocked oil glands. Unblocking these may help in tear production.
Light therapy and eyelid massage – This therapy is used to help patients with dry eyes. It is a technique called intense-pulsed-light therapy. This can help increase the production of tears.
Patients who experience dry eyes should note the situations that may cause the condition. They should avoid:
- Avoid air blowing in the eyes like the air from hair dryers, fans, and air conditioners.
- Take eye breaks from long tasks and staying long periods in front of the computer
- Add moisture to the air through humidifiers
- Consider wearing glasses and protective eyewear when driving or going to windy places.
- Put the computer screen below the eye level
- Avoid smoking and stop smoking
- Use artificial tears if your eyes are dry
- Increase the intake of water to 8 to 10 glasses per day to hydrate the body.