Almost everyone has had sore, irritated eyes at one time or another. But if the pain and redness just won’t go away, you may have “dry eye” condition.
Normally, when you blink, tears wash smoothly across your cornea, the clear outside part of the eye. Your tears have three layers: an outer oily sheet, a middle watery layer, and an inner mucous film. The oily layer keeps the surface of the tears smooth and protects the water layer from drying out too quickly. The job of the water is to wash away foreign materials that may end up in your eye. But the watery layer could not stick to your eye without the help of the mucus, which spreads the tears across the eye and keeps the eye surface moist. After moving across your eye, excess tears are drained away by small ducts at the inner corners of your eyelids.
Dry eye happens in two ways–either the eye doesn’t make enough tears or something affects one or more of the tear layers. Many people experience dry eyes as they age, and women are often affected due to the hormonal changes of menopause. Other causes of dry eye condition include medications such as antihistamines and blood pressure drugs, medical conditions such as diabetes and eye infections, long-term use of contact lenses, and environmental factors including smoke and dry wind. Staring at a computer screen without blinking may also cause dry eye.
For most people, the main symptoms of dry eye are having eyes that
- sting and burn
- are red and irritated
- feel scratchy or gritty
- have mucus strings
- water excessively, without pain relief.
Your eye doctor will perform an eye exam, including completion of a medical history, assessment of your eyes, and measurement of tear quantity and quality. Based on this information, your doctor will determine the most effective treatment for your condition.
Dry eye treatment focuses on adding tears, saving tears, and treating underlying conditions. To add tears, your eye doctor may prescribe over-the-counter artificial tear solutions; if artificial tears are not enough, the doctor may give you eye medication that increases your tear production. To conserve tears, tiny silicone or gel plugs called punctal plugs may be put into your tear ducts to slow tear drainage. These can be removed later, if desired. If an eye infection is causing your dry eye, your doctor will treat that condition.
To reduce the symptoms of dry eye at home, remember to blink regularly when reading or working at the computer, increase the humidity in your house or office, drink water to avoid dehydration, and wear sunglasses outdoors to decrease wind and sun exposure.
If you have questions about dry eye or need to schedule an appointment, contact us today!