We use our eyes to perform almost all our daily tasks. If they are constantly dry and irritated, it will be extremely difficult to function normally. If you are suffering from chronic dry eye, you’re not alone. This condition is quite common, especially in older adults. In fact, it affects nearly 4.91 million Americans 50 years and older. Statistics show that millions of younger people also experience dry eye symptoms, but they are usually less severe and are mostly episodic.
Fortunately, there are various treatments available for this eye disorder. Read on to learn more about this condition and how you can get rid of it.
The Role of Tears
Dry eye happens when you don’t produce enough quality tears to nourish and lubricate your eyes. Tears are responsible for maintaining the health of the front surface of the eye, keeping your vision clear. With each blink of the eyelids, tears coat the external part of your eye, washing away foreign debris.
Any excess tears gets drained into ducts around the inner corners of the eyelids, which flow into the back of the nose. If there is an imbalance between drainage and tear production, dry eyes can occur.
Those who suffer from this condition either do not produce enough tears or their tears are of poor quality:
- Inadequate amount of tears
Several glands in and around the eyelids produce tears. Aging and various medical conditions can affect tear production. It can also be a side effect of certain medications. The climate in your area can also decrease tear volume due to increased tear evaporation. Symptoms of dry eye can develop when your eyes produce fewer tears or if the tears evaporate too quickly.
- Poor quality tears
Three layers make up the tears: water, oil, and mucus. Each component protects the front surface of the eye. The water layer adds moisture, while the oil helps prevent its evaporation. The mucin layer spreads the tears evenly over the surface of the eye. Deficiencies with any of these layers will stop your eyes from getting the moisture and nourishment that they need.
The most common form of dry eyes starts when the water layer of tears is inadequate. This disorder, called keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS), is also known as dry eye syndrome.
Individuals suffering from dry eyes may experience scratchy, gritty, irritated, or burning eyes. There can be excess watering, blurred vision, or a feeling of something in the eyes. Advanced dry eyes may harm the front surface of the eyes and cause vision impairment.
Treatments aim to restore and maintain the normal amount of tears in the eyes. This is to minimize dryness and related discomfort.
Dry Eye Causes
Causes and symptoms tend to vary from one person to another. Common risk factors include the following:
- Hormonal imbalance
- Natural process of aging
- Certain disorders, such as autoimmune disease (rheumatoid arthritis, Sjögren’s syndrome, thyroid problems, diabetes)
- Long-term use of contact lens
- A side effect of some drugs like decongestants, antidepressants, anti-hypersensitive medication, and antihistamines
- Staring at digital screens for long periods of time
- Chronic exposure to smoke, dry climates, and dry wind
- Inflammation of the eyelids
- Post-refractive eye surgeries such as LASIK
If an underlying condition is what’s causing your dry eyes, your doctor will have to focus treatment on curing that first. You can also discuss medications, non-invasive, and surgical methods with your eye doctor.
There are basic medications that can help with mild cases of dry eye. You can also use them to prevent irritation and moisten your eyes after a procedure.
- Artificial Tears – Ask your doctor for eye lubricating drops. Check which ingredients work best for your special case as they can vary with every brand. Artificial tears range from hypotonic to oil-based drops. Consider buying one that doesn’t contain preservatives if you intend to use it more than four times a day.
- Serum Tears – Moderate to severe cases may require formulated teardrops. Serum tears contain saline, nutrients, and other growth factors.
- Nonsteroidal prescription drops – For dry eyes caused by eyelid or ocular surface inflammation, eye drops like Xiidra and Restasis are the treatment of choice.
- Warm Compress – Apply warm compresses to the closed eyelids for more than 10 minutes at least twice a day. To be effective, researchers say you have to maintain its temperature at 108 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Meibomian Gland Expression – A large percentage of dry eye cases are due to the inadequate oil being secreted from meibomian glands. Oil in the tears is critical to slowing evaporation. To get them functioning again, your doctor may perform an in-office meibomian gland expression and squeeze out what’s clogging these glands.
- Intense Pulsed Light Therapy (IPL) – The doctor uses a hand-held device to flash bright light onto the skin during an IPL treatment. It repairs dilated blood vessels and associated inflammation that may be causing dry eye symptoms.
- LipiFlow Thermal Pulsation System (TearScience) – This is an automated therapy that combines the best features of meibomian gland expression and warm compress. The procedure takes about 12 minutes per eye. Its beneficial effects can last one to three years or longer.
Invasive procedures often come as a last resort to treating dry eye syndrome. Doctors commonly recommend two methods:
- Punctal Plugs – The doctor inserts tiny plugs into the opening of the tear drainage duct in the corner of the eye called the puncta. Blocking this part will slow the drainage of tears, allowing lubrication to remain on the eye’s surface for a longer period.
- Punctal Cauterization – Medications and punctal plugs are usually enough to successfully repair dry eye syndrome. In the rare case that they don’t, doctors may recommend cauterization. This is the application of heat to the puncta in each eye to close the duct permanently. This prevents the drainage of tears out of the eyes. Local anesthesia is administered to ensure you feel no pain.
Never ignore symptoms of dry eyes as they can potentially lead to more serious problems and even permanent vision loss. There are many ways to prevent and remedy dry eye syndrome. Be sure have your eyes checked with an ophthalmologist first.