What is dry eye?
Dry eye occurs when your eyes do not produce enough tears or produce tears that do not have the proper chemical composition. Dry eye may also be caused by your tears excessively evaporating. The tears your eyes normally produce are necessary for comfortable and clear vision.
What causes dry eye?
Many factors can contribute to the symptoms of dry eye.
• The normal aging process
• Hormonal changes
• Exposure to dry environmental conditions
• Decreased blinking when concentrating or looking at screens
• Problems with normal blinking
• Overwearing contact lenses
• Medications such as antihistamines, oral contraceptives or antidepressants
• Autoimmune conditions
• UV exposure and environmental irritants.
• The presence of mites that live in the eyelash follicles
What are signs/symptoms of dry eye?
The common signs and symptoms of dry eye include:
• Stinging, gritty, scratchy and uncomfortable eyes
• Fluctuating vision
• Feeling of something foreign within the eye
• Excess tears (this is a natural reflex but these tears are not stable and do not remain on the eye)
How is dry eye diagnosed?
During your examination, your optometrist will ask you questions about your general health, your use of medications and your home and work environments to determine any factors which may be causing dry eye symptoms. This information will help your optometrist decide whether to perform additional dry eye testing and offer new treatments.
Your optometrist will evaluate the quality and quantity of tears using special dyes and a high powered microscope.
Can dry eye be cured?
Dry eye is commonly chronic and requires continuous care. However, for most people, comfort can be significantly improved with artificial tears. For more severe dry eye, gels and ointments can be used, especially at bedtime.
A therapy involving heat and pressure is also commonly recommended to clear any poorly functioning oil glands. This allows the body to return to the natural production of oils required for proper tear composition.
In more severe cases, small plugs can be put in the corner of the eyelids to slow drainage and loss of tears. A change in diet (adding fish or flaxseed oil) can also be helpful. As well, new prescription medications are now available to help your body produce more of its own tears or reduce eyelid inflammation.
Your optometrist can assess your tear film and recommend the best treatment options for you.
Will dry eye harm my eyes?
If dry eye is left untreated, it can have longterm effects. Excessive dry eye can damage tissue and possibly scar the sensitive corneal tissues of your eye, impairing vision. Dry eye can also make contact lens wear more difficult due to increased irritation and a greater chance of an eye infection.
To keep dry eye symptoms in check, you and your optometrist will formulate a plan together to specifically suit your needs and your lifestyle.