Tears, made by the lacrimal gland, are necessary for overall eye health and clear vision. Tears bathe the surface of the eye, keeping it moist, and wash away dust and debris. They also help protect the eye from bacterial and other types of infections. The tear film that coats the eye has 3 layers. The outer oily layer comes from tiny glands in the eyelids. The middle layer is water and comes from the lacrimal gland. The inner layer is made of mucous and comes from the surface of the eye. Any abnormality that alters any of these components of tears can lead to dry eye.
What are the symptoms of dry eye? You may experience one or more of these:
- A sandy or gritty feeling as if something is in the eye; stinging and burning
- Episodes of excess tears following very dry eye periods
- A stringy discharge from the eye
- Pain and redness of the eye
- Episodes of blurred vision; and decreased tolerance of reading
- Heavy eyelids; eye fatigue
- Inability to cry when emotionally stressed
- Uncomfortable contact lenses
There are many causes of dry eyes including:
- effects of medications such as anti histamines, blood pressure medications, contraceptives, anti-Parkinson's and depressants and temporarily after Lasik or cosmetic surgery of the eyelids
- It may be associated with Sjogren's Syndrome, Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Hyperthyroidism, pregnancy and allergies, long term contact lens wear
- Chronic inflammation of the eye and/or lacrimal gland
How is Dry Eye Treated?
There are many options. You and your doctor can tailor a treatment plan that works best for you.
- Artificial tears, gels, and ointments. Use preservative free preparations if you are using them more than 4 times a day.
- An air filter to minimize dust and a humidifier will ease your symptoms. Wear wrap around sunglasses outdoors.
- Supplements or dietary sources (such as tuna fish) of omega-3 fatty acids (especially DHA and EPA) may decrease symptoms of irritation.
- Punctual plugs to close the tear drainage holes
- Cyclosporine, an anti-inflammatory medication, is the only prescription drug available to treat dry eye. It may take 3 to 6 months to take effect