Dry eye syndrome is a chronic lack of sufficient lubrication and moisture in the eye. Its consequences range from subtle but constant irritation to ocular inflammation of the anterior (front) tissues of the eye.
Dry Eye Syndrome Symptoms
Persistent dryness, scratching and burning in your eyes are signs of dry eye syndrome. These symptoms alone may be enough for your eye doctor to diagnose dry eye syndrome. But sometimes he or she may want to measure the amount of tears in your eyes. A thin strip of filter paper placed at the edge of the eye, called a Schirmer test, is one way to measure.
Some people also experience a “foreign body sensation,” the feeling that something is in the eye. And it may seem odd, but sometimes watery eyes can result from dry eye syndrome, because the excessive dryness works to overstimulate production of the watery component of your eye’s tears.
What Causes Dry Eyes?
Tears bathe the eye, washing out dust and debris and keeping the eye moist. They also contain enzymes that neutralize the microorganisms that colonize the eye. Tears are essential for good eye health. In dry eye syndrome, the eye doesn’t produce enough tears, or the tears have a chemical composition that causes them to evaporate too quickly.
Dry eye syndrome has several causes. It occurs as a part of the natural aging process, especially during menopause; as a side effect of many medications, such as antihistamines, antidepressants, certain blood pressure medicines, Parkinson’s medications and birth control pills; or because you live in a dry, dusty or windy climate. Another cause is insufficient blinking, such as when you’re staring at a computer screen all day.
Dry eyes are also a symptom of systemic diseases such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, rosacea or Sjogren’s syndrome (a triad of dry eyes, dry mouth and rheumatoid arthritis or lupus).
Long-term contact lens wear is another cause; in fact, dry eyes are the most common complaint among contact lens wearers. Recent research suggests that smoking, too, can increase your risk of dry eye syndrome. With increased popularity of eyelid surgery (blepharoplasty) for improved appearance, dry eye complaints now occasionally are associated with incomplete closure of eyelids following a procedure.
Treatment for Dry Eyes
Dry eye syndrome is an ongoing condition that may not be cured (depends on the cause), but the accompanying dryness, scratchiness and burning can be managed. Your eyecare practitioner may prescribe artificial tears, which are lubricating eyedrops that may alleviate the dry, scratching feeling.
Restasis eyedrops (cyclosporine in a castor oil base) go one step further: they help your eyes to increase tear production. Restasis treatment is the first of its kind.
If you wear contact lenses, be aware that many eye drops, especially artificial tears, cannot be used while your contacts are in your eyes. If your eye dryness is mild, then contact lens rewetting drops may be sufficient to make your eyes feel better, but the effect is usually only temporary.
If the problem is environmental, you should always wear sunglasses when outdoors, to reduce exposure to sun, wind and dust. Indoors, an air cleaner can filter out dust and other particles from the air, while a humidifier adds moisture to air that’s too dry because of air conditioning or heating.
Mild dehydration may make dry eye problems worse. This is especially true during hot, dry and windy weather. But the symptoms of dry eye syndrome may be improved by simply drinking more water.
If medications are the cause of dry eyes, discontinuing the drug generally resolves the problem. But in this case, the benefits of the drug must be weighed against the side effect of dry eyes.
Treating any underlying eyelid disease, such as blepharitis, helps as well. This may call for antibiotic or steroid drops plus frequent eyelid scrubs with an antibacterial shampoo.
If you are considering LASIK, be aware that dry eyes may disqualify you for the surgery, at least until the problem is resolved. Dry eyes increase your risk for poor healing after LASIK, so most surgeons will want to treat the dry eyes first, to ensure a good LASIK outcome. This goes for other types of vision correction surgery, as well.
Ebsaar Eye Surgery Center, one of the leading Laser Eye Surgery Specialists in the region.