Dry eye is one of the most common complaints seen in eye doctors’ offices today. Tears are necessary for overall eye health and clear vision.
Tears bathe the surface of the eye, keeping it moist and healthy. They also help protect the eye from bacterial and other types of infections. There are two major components or layers in the tear film, water and oil, which must present for the tears to function properly. If one of these layers is low or abnormal, then symptoms will occur. Dry eye can make activities such as reading or using a computer difficult. Left untreated, dry eye can lead to irritation, infection or vision issues.
- Blurred vision
- Fluctuating vision
- Eye pain
- “Tired eyes”
A person’s eyes may be dry for several reasons and the treatment depends on the cause of the condition. The best way to treat dry eye is to take preventative measures before symptoms appear. Dry eye is a chronic condition, often with seasonal or environmental triggers. Think about dry eye like you do dry skin. When your skin is dry you put lotion on it multiple times over a few weeks to heal the damage. Dry eyes are the same way. It commonly takes artificial tear application three to four times a day for a few weeks, or chronically, to protect the surface and help the eye recover. However, like lotion on dry skin, it’s important to continue lubricating the eyes in order to prevent symptoms from returning.
Treating the water layer
Most cases of dry eye can be managed by intermittent to frequent use of artificial tears, (available in several over-the-counter varieties), a portable humidifier, and oral omega 3 supplementation. In cases where dry eye persists despite frequent tear application, a small plug can be placed in the eyelid punctum, which drains tears from the eye, keeping your natural tears around longer and increasing the water layer of the tear film. In addition, a person’s eyes may be dry due to insufficient tear production. Recent research has shown that inflammation of the surface of the eye may lead to dryness. Because of this anti-inflammatory drugs can be helpful.
Treating the oil layer
Another reason a person?s eye may be getting dry is a dysfunction of the oil producing glands of the eye. These glands produce the top layer to the tear film and help slow down and prevent the evaporation of the tear film. The oil in these glands can solidify, preventing the oil from excreting onto the tear film. If this oil solidifies too much it can lead to a stye. This cause of dry eye can be treated with warm compresses on the eyelids for five minutes often followed by eyelid massage and eye lid scrubs with baby shampoo, on a daily or twice daily basis. In more severe cases, several different topical and oral medications are available enhance the healthy secretion of oils. In addition, plugging of the oil glands can be relieved with a simple office procedure called Meibomian Gland Expression, which opens plugged glands and allows new healthy oils to be produced.