A condition that is identified by inadequate lubrication in the eyes is referred to as dry eyes. It is a common condition and often arises when insufficient tears are produced to keep the eyes from losing moisture. Many factors can cause this discomforting condition. Dryness in the eyes can cause stinging or burning in the eyes and various situations that can trigger the condition. For example, you can experience dryness in the eyes while in an airplane, sitting in an air-conditioned area, riding a bike, or looking at a computer screen for long. There are various treatments available for dry eyes, such as dry eye drops that can reduce the discomfort caused due to burning or stinging sensation. Most likely, the measures to control dry eyes will have to be taken for long durations to keep the symptoms at bay.
Symptoms of dry eyes
Various symptoms can help you identify dry eyes, such as
- Burning and stinging sensation in the eyes
- Itchiness in the eyes
- Heaviness in the eyes
- Fatigued or tired eyes
- Soreness in the eyes
- Sensation of dryness
- Redness in the eyes
- Blurriness in the vision
Another common symptom of the condition is the feeling of a foreign object in the eye. Also, watery eyes can also be a symptom of dry eyes. When there is excessive dryness in the eyes, tears are overproduced for compensation. This is a part of the protective response of the body toward dry eyes. However, this overproduction does not stay in the eyes for a long duration and, hence, does not treat the condition. Besides, dry eyes can also lead to inflammation and even damage the eye surface permanently in some cases.
What are the causes of dry eyes?
Eye lubrication heavily depends on the production of tears. The necessary lubrication and moisture provided by the tears help your eyes feel comfortable. But how do tears do that? The answer is hidden in their composition. Tears are a mixture of water, which is important for lubrication; oil, which is important for lubrication; mucus, which is important for uniform spreading; and antibodies and proteins, which are important to prevent the eyes from infection. All the ingredients are secreted by some special glands built around the eyes. When you suffer from dry eyes, it often indicates that the entire system responsible for the production of tears has gone for a toss.
Surprisingly, at times, dry eyes can also lead to the production of an excess number of tears. This condition is known as reflex tearing. It is a result of irritation caused by a lack or absence of adequate moisture in the eyes. When there is a lack of lubrication or moisture in the eyes, a distress signal is sent out to the nervous system to make up for the missing lubrication. As a response, tears are sent in a large amount to the eyes to compensate for the dryness. These tears are not like normal tears but are basically water, and these tears cannot really treat the underlying reason for the dryness.
There are a variety of external factors that can play in role in messing the system responsible for the production and flow of tears. This system otherwise works like clockwork. Air conditioners, heaters, airplane journeys, etc. can interfere with the flow of tears and can lead to dry eyes.
There are several other causes which include the following:
- Certain medications
- Sjogren’s syndrome
- Collagen vascular disease
- Hormone replacement therapy
- LASIK eye surgery
- Wearing contact lens for too long
- Insufficient blinking of the eyes
Any imbalance in the composition of the tear can also be a cause of dry eyes. The film of the tears comprises of mucus, oil, and water. Any dysfunction in any of the compositions can lead to dry eyes. For example, the oil film is produced by meibomian glands that are located on the edge of the eyelids. These glands can get clogged and are known to cause dry eyes.
Diagnosis of dry eyes
The doctor will have to diagnose the condition through certain methods. There are multiple procedures and tests that are done to diagnose dry eyes, some of them are
- Thorough examination
When your eyes are examined thoroughly by an eye doctor, it can help them to look deeper into your overall health as well as eye health. This can help them in diagnosing the condition along with identifying the cause of the condition.
- Schirmer test
The test is used to measure the volume of tears you are producing. To conduct the test, blotting paper strips are placed under the eyelids. These strips kept there for about five minutes and then the doctor checks to see the number of tears soaked by the strip.
- Checking tear quality
There are some tests that use special dyes mixed in eye drops to check the condition of the surface of the eyes. The eye doctor will check the straining patterns that are formed on the corneas. He/she will also measure the time it takes for your tears to evaporate.
Who is at risk?
Dry eyes commonly affect people who are years 50 or older. As per estimations, as many as 5 million people in the country suffering from dry eyes fall under this age group. Although it is commonly found in women, men also do get the condition. Pregnant women, women who are undergoing hormone replacement therapy, or who are menopausal are at a higher risk of suffering from dry eyes. Here are some more conditions that can increase the risk of getting dry eyes:
- Allergies that are chronic
- Conditions that force the eyes to pop forward
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Vitamin A deficiency
Another risk factor to consider is exposure keratitis. It is a condition that usually occurs in people who have partially open eyes while they sleep
What are the treatment options for dry eyes?
In most cases, overt-the-counter dry eye drops are enough to treat the condition. These drops are beneficial if the person experiences mild symptoms that occur occasionally. But if the symptoms become severe and keep lingering on for long durations, other treatment options that will have to be taken into consideration. These treatment options will entirely depend on the underlying cause of dry eyes. While some treatments aim at treating or managing the underlying condition of dry eyes, some others focus on treatment that can work on the quality of your tears or prevent tears from rapidly evaporating.
By treating the underlying condition that has led to dry eyes can get your relief from the symptoms of the condition. For instance, if the condition is caused as a result of a side effect caused by a medication, you can be taken off the medication and prescribed a substitute.
In cases where dry eyes are caused due to an eyelid condition, like ectropion, the patient can be referred to an eye surgeon who can perform plastic surgery on the eyelids to fix them. Also, in cases where rheumatoid arthritis can be the underlying condition causing dry eyes, the patients may be referred to a rheumatologist.
There are quite a few methods that are great for treating dry eyes, such as
- Medicines to fight eyelid inflammation
When there is an inflammation on the edge of the eyelids, it can prevent the oil glands from releasing the necessary oil into the eyes. This inflammation can be treated with the help of antibiotics. These medications can be administered orally, though these antibiotics are also available in the forms of eye drops and ointments.
- Dry eye drops
To control the inflammation occurring on the eye surface, some dry eye drops can be prescribed by the doctor. These eye drops contain cyclosporine or corticosteroids, which is a medication that suppresses inflammation. However, these medications might not be prescribed for a long duration due to their various side effects that come along.
- Eye inserts
In cases where the symptoms of dry eyes are moderate and do not occur frequently, eye inserts can be recommended. These inserts are like small clean rice grains and are made of hydroxypropyl cellulose. They are supposed to be placed between the eyeball and the lower eyelid once a day. The inserts dissolve gradually and release a substance into the eye which helps in lubrication of the eye.
- Medications for tear production
Certain medications are designed to increase the production of tears. These medications are available in the form of pills, eye drops, and gel. They can have some side effects such as sweating.
- Eye-drops made from the patient’s blood
These eye-drops are referred to as autologous blood serum drops. These are used in cases where no other treatment works and symptoms remain persistent. In order to produce these drops, the patient’s blood samples are collected and processed. Red blood cells are removed and then a salt solution is mixed with the blood.
In addition to medications, there are some procedures that can be used to treat dry eyes, including
- Closing of tear ducts
This is a treatment done to lower the rate of tear loss from the eyes. This procedure is recommended when the doctor feels the need to prevent the tears from rapidly leaving the eyes. To do this, the tear ducts can be closed partially or completely. These ducts work like a passage to drain out the tears. During the procedure, silicone plugs known as punctal plugs are plugged with the tear ducts. These plugs are removable. During the procedure, heat is used to plug the tear ducts. This procedure is known as thermal cautery and it provides a more permanent solution to dry eyes.
- Contact lenses
There are special lenses that are new in the market. So, talk to your doctor about these lenses. These special lenses are designed to protect the eye surface and lock in the moisture. These lenses are known as scleral lenses or sometimes bandage lenses.
- Unclogging of oil glands
If the condition is being caused by block oil glands, it can be unclogged using warm compresses. Another way to unblock the glands is by using a thermal pulsation device. However, it is yet to be clear whether this method is better than using warm compressors.
- Eyelid massage and light therapy
A procedure known as intense pulsed light therapy is used to treat dry eyes. This treatment is followed by massaging the eyelids. This procedure has proven to be helpful in treating serious cases of dry eyes also.
To prevent dry eyes, some of the biggest changes that need to be made are in your surroundings and in your daily habits. Here are some tips that can help you prevent dry eyes:
- Avoid having a blast of fans, heater, or hair dryers directly on your face. Doing this can make the symptoms of dry eyes worse.
- Protect your eyes every time you step out in the sun. Wear sunglasses that properly cover your eyes. Prevent your eyes from the smoke in the air.
- Avoid staring at your computer screens for long durations. Take a break and close your eyes for some minutes. You can also stare at an object which is placed at a distance. The computer screen should be at a level that you look downwards while working
- Reduce the duration of wearing contact lenses and make sure that you clean your lenses frequently and correctly.
- Use a humidifier at home to make sure that there is enough moisture in your surroundings.