Dryness of the eyes is one of the most common ocular conditions seen in the eye doctor’s office. The causes are multiple and the symptoms are variable. And the more doctors study dry eye, the more variations of dry eye come to light. As such, the whole topic of dry eye can become a source of confusion and frustration for patients suffering with dry eye. This article is a basic overview of what dry eye actually is, some of the causes, and the solutions.
First, a little ocular anatomy….
The cornea is the clear dome on the front surface of the eye. In addition to the lens inside the eye, the cornea is responsible for focusing the image on the retina in the back of the eye. Think of the cornea like the lens of a camera. The tear film on the surface of the cornea needs to be healthy and have enough volume to keep the cornea clear and clean. Think of the tear film like a protective layer on the camera lens. If there’s a problem with the tear film, the cornea will not remain as clear as needed and will suffer irritation from being dried out. This irritation can present with multiple symptoms including:
- tearing – yes, tearing. The emotional tear gland can secrete tears in response to the irritation causing the eyes to tear up in response.
- grittiness – the eyes may feel sandy or gritty when the tear volume is low
- fluctuating vision, especially with concentrated tasks like reading, computer, or driving
- redness – the inflammation that occurs can bring on redness
- crusting – especially in the morning. This is due to more mucus being secreted in response to the lack of tears.
After a thorough evaluation of your dry eye situation, the causes, and your symptoms, your eye doctor can recommend a treatment protocol. Treatment options include the following:
- replacement tear drops – also called artificial tears
- tear gels and ointments – for more severe cases of dry eyes
- prescription eyedrops
- supplements – many patients will improve with nutritional supplements such as omega fatty acids and oral flax seed
- lacrimal inserts or plugs – the “drain” of the lower lid can be blocked to keep the tears on the eyes longer
Chronic dry eye is not only painful, but over time can damage the corneal surface. So, if you’re experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, seek the expertise of your eye doctor and seek the relieve you need.