Millions of people suffer from a chronic condition called dry eye syndrome caused by inadequate tear production. This condition ranges in severity from being mildly irritating to causing vision impairment, particularly at night. Many people are unaware that this is a treatable medical condition and simply put up with itching and redness or use eye drops to provide relief.
At Atlantis Eyecare, we offer comprehensive dry eye treatment tailored to meet the specific cause of the condition. Simply using eye drops usually provides short term relief but does not address the question of why the eyes are not producing adequate tears.
Causes of chronically dry eyes
One of the most common reasons for dry eyes is a result of the natural aging process. In particular, menopausal women are more subject to dry eye syndrome due to hormonal changes. However, there are several other causes of dry eyes, including side effects of certain medications, systemic diseases such as lupus, Bell’s palsy, rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid disease and Sjogren’s. Eye conditions such as blepharitis and corneal dystrophy can also cause dry eye syndrome.
Physical problems with the eyelid can also interfere with tear production and conservation. Eyelids that turn out or turn in can cause over tearing or block tear production.
Most people occasionally experience mild dry eye symptoms caused by environmental conditions such as smoky air, extremely low humidity or wind. In these cases eye drops are usually enough to relieve discomfort.
Chronic dry eye disease, also called keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS) requires a definite diagnosis and a treatment plan. Not all dry eye treatment will be the same as there are many different causes.
Symptoms of chronic dry eye syndrome
Chronic dry eye can begin with mild symptoms that are easily ignored. When the symptoms occur frequently, or become worse, a visit to the eye doctor is in order. Symptoms to watch for are:
- Gritty feeling or a feeling that there is something in the eye
- Redness, irritation, burning
- Difficulty with contact lenses
- Light sensitivity
- Mucus discharge
- Watery eyes – over response to dry eyes
- Blurred vision
- Night vision difficulties
- Eye fatigue
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms an eye exam by one of our ophthalmologists will quickly identify the cause of the irritation. More importantly, dry eye treatment should begin as soon as symptoms occur to avoid developing infections or other more serious problems.
Tears are a complex fluid
The tears are a mixture of three substances; water, fatty oils and mucus. Each component has a task in protecting the eyes from infection, lubricating the eye and aiding with clear sharp vision. The tears wash the eyes and remove debris keeping the cornea clear constantly. When tear production is low, the eyes become vulnerable to infection and irritation.
Diagnosing why the tears are not functioning normally involves evaluating both the volume of tear production and the quality of the tear fluid. Some dry eye patients produce adequate tear volume but the fluid lacks oil or mucus or is not balanced properly. Another factor can be that tear production and quality is normal but the fluid drains too quickly.
Dry eye treatment
Once the cause has been identified, dry eye treatment will involve either increasing tear production, treating any inflammation found to be contributing to dry eyes or preventing tears from draining too quickly.
Increasing tear production
The initial treatment for most patients is the use of artificial tear products. Using these frequently will provide needed moisture and can stimulate the natural production of tears. Changing behavior such as remembering to blink frequently while working on a computer and wearing wraparound sunglasses outside to block the wind will help many dry eye patients. Your eye care professional will recommend safe, preservative-free eye drops that will not further irritate the eyes.
Treating dry eye inflammation
Eyelid or eye surface irritation will require prescription eye drops as well as hygiene products to help clean the surface and the edge of the lids. There are oil producing glands lining the upper and lower eyelids which can become clogged causing poor quality tears and dry eye. Treatment for clogged oil glands will consists of applying prescription ointment or drops and warm compresses.
When there is an imbalance in tear production and drainage your ophthalmologist may recommend small silicone plugs, called punctal plugs, be placed within the ducts to stop the outflow of tears. This can assist greatly in keeping the eyes hydrated with natural tears and can be removed when no longer needed.
Come in for a dry eye check
Treating dry eyes is important to eye health and quality of vision. Patients with any dry eye symptoms that can’t be explained by short term environmental conditions should make an appointment with one of our doctors to either rule out dry eye syndrome, or to begin dry eye treatment.