For some people, the stinging, burning and redness may seem like little more than a nuisance. But, if left untreated, dry eye syndrome can lead to serious eye problems, including blindness. Dry eyes are inflamed eyes. Inflammation of the front surface of the eye increases the risk of infection and can also lead to scarring. Once scarring occurs, permanent loss of sight can occur.
Understanding Dry Eye Syndrome
Tears are essential for good eye health, bathing the eye, washing out dust and debris while keeping the eye moist. The eyes produce two types of tears – lubricating and reflex tears. Lubricating tears are composed of three layers which coat the eye with mucus and contain water, proteins and oil to protect the eye and prevent evaporation of the aqueous layer. Reflex tears are produced in response to eye injury or irritation.
With dry eye syndrome, the eye does not produce enough tears or the tears have a chemical composition that causes them to evaporate too quickly. The cause of dry eye syndrome is a dysfunction of the tear-producing glands which results in reduced production of tears. It can occur as a part of the natural aging process, especially during menopause or as a side effect of many medications – such as antihistamines, anti-depressants, diuretics, certain blood pressure medications, Parkinson’s medication and birth control pills.
Dry eye syndrome can be aggravated if you live in a dry, dusty or windy climate. Air conditioning and dry heating systems can dry out your eyes as well. Insufficient blinking, such as when you are staring at a computer screen all day can contribute to it as well.
Recent research indicates that contact lens wear and dry eyes can be a vicious cycle. Dry eyes are the most common complaint among contact lens wearers. Dry eye syndrome results in contact lens discomfort and the rubbing of the lens against the conjunctiva seem to be a cause of dry eyes.
Dry eye syndrome is common in women, possibly due to hormonal fluctuations. Recent research suggests that smoking, too, can increase your risk of dry eye syndrome.
Dry eyes are also a symptom of systemic diseases such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Rosacea or Sjorgren’s syndrome.
Signs and Symptoms of Dry Eye Syndrome
Persistent dryness, scratching and burning in your eyes are signs of dry eye syndrome. These symptoms alone may be enough to diagnose dry eye syndrome. Sometimes, the amount of tears in your eyes is measured, using a Schirmer test. This is done by placing a thin strip of filter paper at the edge of the eye. Some people also experience a “foreign body sensation” – the feeling that something is in the eye.
Center For Sight is a leader in bringing our patients the latest advances for the care of dry eye syndrome. Today, there are more treatment options than ever that can help to reduce or eliminate the symptoms, depending on the dryness of your eyes.
The simplest approach to treating dry eyes is to supplement your body’s natural tears with lubricating artificial tears. We recommend using mildly preserved brands such as Tears Plus, Refresh, Systane, Soothe or their preservative free counterparts, as well as Bion Tears or TheraTears.
Studies have shown that Vitamin A deficiency is linked to dry eye syndrome. Your doctor might suggest a specific formulation, such as TheraTears Nutrition or BioTears.
Dry eye syndrome has been shown to be an “inflammatory” eye disorder and your doctor might prescribe “anti-inflammatory” medicines such as Restasis (eye drops used twice daily) or Lotemax (your doctor will prescribe the frequency of use).
You may be able to significantly ease the discomfort of dry eye syndrome by reducing factors in your environment that contribute to the problem. Maintaining humidity, avoiding the use of ceiling fans and looking away from the computer or television screen every ten minutes are all helpful. Also, try to blink more frequently to spread tears over the eyes.
Tear Duct Inserts
The eye’s lubricating balance is maintained by its volume and quality of tears produced by certain glands, and excess tears are drained into the nose and throat through tear ducts located in each eyelid. If the drain is working “too well,” the eye’s natural moisture can be lost, resulting in a dry eye. Your doctor might elect to insert a temporary (collagen) or permanent (silicone or thermoacrylic) stopper to “plug” the drainage, allowing your own tears to bathe your eyes for
a longer period. They are inserted in a painless in-office procedure and may be removed at any time.