Dry eyes result from either inadequate production of tears or poor-quality tears. The tear film on your eye is extremely important because, in addition to nourishing the front of your eye, the tear film plays a big part in the task of focusing the light that enters your eye onto the retina.
Some common symptoms of dry eyes include burning, stinging, scratchiness, sensitivity to light, and contact lens intolerance. Blurred vision is a very common symptom of dry eyes. Typically the vision worsens throughout the day and often improves temporarily after a blink. Many patients will experience excessive tearing and it can be confusing when they are told that they actually have dry eyes. This excessive tearing is called “reflex tearing” and it occurs when the lacrimal gland is triggered to produce more tears in response to irritation on the surface of the eye.
Who gets dry eyes?
Your eyes produce fewer tears as you get older. This is especially true for woman after menopause. Dry eyes are also commonly seen with certain medical conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, thyroid disorders, lupus and Sjogren’s syndrome. Medications that have been associated with dry eyes include diuretics, antihistamines, decongestants, birth control pills, some antidepressants, some high blood pressure medications and isotretinoin (for acne). Laser eye surgery (LASIK) causes a temporary dry eye in almost all patients, but this usually resolves over a period of months. Patients with blepharitis will often have concurrent dry eyes and treating the blepharitis improves the quality of the tears.
Diagnosis and treatment
Our physicians can diagnosis dry eyes through a thorough examination of your eyes. They will evaluate the quality of your tear film using special dyes in eye drops. In some cases, a Schirmer tear test is performed, which will measure your tear production.
Most patients with mild dry eye symptoms can be treated with over-the-counter eye drops called artificial tears. If artificial tears alone are not providing adequate relief, we may discuss the option of punctal plugs with you. These small plugs block one of both of the tear drains in your lids, in an attempt to conserve the tears you are making. This procedure is very simple and reversible. Other treatment options include prescription medications, such as Restasis®, which have been shown to increase tear production and decrease the inflammation in the eyelids that is commonly seen in patients with dry eyes.
There are also several important steps that you can take to help relieve the symptoms of dry eyes. Most importantly, if you are a smoker, stop smoking. Smoke exacerbates dry eye symptoms. Wear glasses or sunglasses when you are outside to decrease your exposure to wind and the particulate matter in the air. Consider using a humidifier in your room while you sleep. Recent research has suggested that omega-3-fatty acids may help relieve some symptoms of dry eyes. Omega-3-fatty acids are found in many foods, including flaxseed oil, canola oil, walnuts, and many fish.