Dry Eye Disease
What Is Dry Eye Disease (DED)?
Our eyes need tears to stay healthy and comfortable. If your eyes do not produce enough tears, it is called dry eye. Dry eye is also when your eyes do not make the right type of tears or tear film
How Do Tears Work?
When you blink, a film of tears spreads over the eye. This keeps the eye’s surface smooth and clear. The tear film is important for good vision. The tear film is made of three layers:
- An oily layer
- A watery layer
- A mucus layer
Each layer of the tear film serves a purpose. The oily layer is the outside of the tear film. It makes the tear surface smooth and keeps tears from drying up too quickly. This layer is made in the eye’s meibomian glands. The watery layer is the middle of the tear film. It makes up most of what we see as tears. This layer cleans the eye, washing away particles that do not belong in the eye. This layer comes from the lacrimal glands in the eyelids. The mucus layer is the inner layer of the tear film.
This helps spread the watery layer over the eye’s surface, keeping it moist. Without mucus, tears would not stick to the eye. Mucus is made in the conjuntiva. This is the clear tissue covering the white of your eye and inside your eyelids. Normally, our eyes constantly make tears to stay moist. If our eyes are irritated, or we cry, our eyes make a lot of tears. However, sometimes the eyes don’t make enough tears or something affects one or more layers of the tear film.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Dry Eye Disease
Your ophthalmologist will begin with an eye exam. He or she will look at your eyelids and the surface of the eye. They will also check how you blink. There are many different tests that help diagnose dry eyes. Your ophthalmologist may do a test that measures the quality or the thickness of your tears. He or she may also measure how quickly you produce tears.
Your ophthalmologist might tell you to use artificial tears. These are eye drops to replace your own tears. You can use artificial tears as often as you need to. You can buy artificial tears without a prescription. There are many brands. Try a few until you find a brand that works best for you. If you use artificial tears more than six times a day or are allergic to preservatives, you should use preservative-free tears. This is because if the tears with preservatives are used a lot, these chemicals may start to irritate your eyes.
Your ophthalmologist may suggest blocking your tear ducts. This makes your natural tears stay in your eyes longer. Tiny silicone or gel plugs (called punctal plugs) may be inserted in your tear ducts. These plugs can be removed later as needed. Your ophthalmologist could also recommend surgery that permanently closes your tear ducts.
Your ophthalmologist might have you use a special eyedrop medication. This helps your eyes make more of their own tears.
Treating Dry Eye Causes
If your eyes are irritated, your ophthalmologist can treat those problems. They may recommend:
- prescription eye drops or ointments
- warm compresses on the eyes
- massaging your eyelids
- certain eyelid cleaners
Dry Eye Symtoms
Having a lot of tears in your eyes with “dry eye” might sound odd, but your eyes make more tears when they are irritated. Here are some symptoms:
- You feel like your eyes are stinging and burning.
- There is a scratchy or gritty feeling like something is in your eye.
- There are strings of mucus in or around your eyes.
- Your eyes are red or irritated. This is especially true when you are in the wind or near cigarette smoke.
- It is painful to wear contact lens.
- You have lots of tears in your eyes.
Dry Eye Causes
People tend to make fewer tears as they get older due to hormonal changes. Both men and women can get dry eye disease. However, it is more common in women—especially those who have gone through menopause. Tell your ophthalmologist about all the prescription and non-prescription medicines you take. Here are some other causes:
- Certain diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren’s syndrome, thyroid disease, and lupus
- Meibomian gland dysfunction (when eyelids are swollen or red)
- Entropion (when eyelids turn in); ectropion (eyelids turn outward)
- Being in smoke, wind or a very dry climate
- Looking at a computer screen for a long time, reading and other activities that reduce blinking
- Using contact lens for a long time
- Having refractive eye surgery, such as LASIK
Taking certain medicines, such as:
- Diuretics (water pills) for high blood pressure
- Beta-blockers, for heart problems or high blood pressure
- Allergy and cold medicines (antihistamines)
- Sleeping pills
- Anxiety and antidepressant medicines
- Heartburn medicines