Dry Eye Explained
If you experience excessive watering of the eyes, it may be confusing for your doctor to tell you that it may be dry eye syndrome. To clarify, the eye makes two kinds of tears: lubricating and reflex tears.
Lubricating tears are manufactured slowly and constantly throughout the day and contain a balanced mixture of oil, water, nutrients and antibodies that act to nourish and protect the surface of the eye.
Reflex tears are quite different. These tears help the eye wash itself of irritations such as smoke, foreign bodies, or as a reflex to injury. If you are not producing enough lubricating tears, the irritation that will occur will also cause reflex tears to flow.
If you do not produce enough lubricating tears…you have “dry eye.”
- Red and / or irritated eyes with a mucus discharge
- Itching and burning eyes
- Feeling gritty or as if there is a foreign body in your eye
- Blurred vision after computer use, reading, etc.
- Discomfort with contact lenses
- Decreased lubricating tear production as we age
- Diseases such as Parkinson’s, or diabetes
- Hormonal changes
- Certain prescription or over the counter medications
- Hot, windy weather…high altitude, air conditioning, or smoky rooms
- Reading, watching TV
- Certain eye surgeries, including Lasik
- Inflammation due to imbalances in “good” and “bad” fats
Your doctor can diagnose dry eye by using a variety of simple tests, such as measuring tear production. He or she may also check for scratches on the surface of the eye caused by dryness using special colored eye drops.
Artificial lubricating eye drops are commonly used for the treatment of dry eye, and are available in liquid, gel and ointment forms. Your doctor will determine the type that is best for you, based on your individual needs and severity of the condition.
Other common treatments for dry eye include warm compresses, anti-inflammatory medications, oral supplements and punctal plugs. In special cases involving infection, inflammation of the eyelids, or clogged oil glands, special lid cleansing procedures or antibiotics may be used. Avoiding environments with smoky or hot, dry conditions may also be warranted, and a humidifier may be used to help in indoor environments.