Dry eye disease is a prevalent condition that arises when your eyes do not receive sufficient lubrication from tears. Inadequate and unstable tears can result from various factors, such as reduced tear production or the production of low-quality tears. This instability in tear composition can lead to inflammation and damage to the eye’s surface.
The discomfort associated with dry eyes can manifest as a stinging or burning sensation. Dry eye symptoms may become pronounced in specific situations, such as during air travel, in air-conditioned environments, while cycling, or after prolonged periods of staring at a computer screen.
To alleviate dry eye discomfort, treatments are available. These treatments encompass lifestyle adjustments and the use of eye drops. Typically, you will need to implement these measures on an ongoing basis to manage dry eye symptoms effectively.
If you’re experiencing these symptoms, which typically affect both eyes, it’s essential to take them seriously and seek medical attention:
- Feeling a stinging, burning, or scratchy sensation in your eyes.
- Noticing stringy mucus in or around your eyes.
- Sensitivity to light.
- Redness in the eyes.
- Feeling like there’s something in your eyes.
- Experiencing difficulty wearing contact lenses.
- Struggling with nighttime driving due to vision issues.
- Having watery eyes, as your body’s response to the irritation caused by dry eyes.
- Suffering from blurred vision or eye fatigue.
If you have been dealing with these signs and symptoms for an extended period, such as red, irritated, tired, or painful eyes, it’s advisable to consult your healthcare provider. They can help identify the underlying cause of your eye discomfort or refer you to a specialist if necessary.
Dry eyes can result from various factors that disrupt the normal tear film, which consists of three layers: fatty oils, aqueous fluid, and mucus. This combination typically maintains the eye’s surface, keeping it lubricated, smooth, and clear. Dysfunction in any of these layers can lead to dry eyes.
There are several reasons for tear film dysfunction, including hormonal changes, autoimmune diseases, inflammation of eyelid glands, and allergic eye conditions. Some individuals experience dry eyes due to reduced tear production or increased tear evaporation.
- Decreased tear production: Dry eyes can occur when there is inadequate production of liquid tears, also known as aqueous fluid. This condition is medically termed keratoconjunctivitis sicca. Common causes of decreased tear production include:
- Certain medical conditions, such as Sjogren’s syndrome, allergic eye disease, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, scleroderma, graft vs. host disease, sarcoidosis, thyroid disorders, or vitamin A deficiency
- Certain medications, including antihistamines, decongestants, hormone replacement therapy, antidepressants, and drugs for high blood pressure, acne, birth control, and Parkinson’s disease
- Corneal nerve desensitization resulting from contact lens use, nerve damage, or laser eye surgery (though symptoms related to this procedure are typically temporary)
- Increased tear evaporation: The oil film produced by small glands on the edge of your eyelids, known as meibomian glands, can become clogged. Blocked meibomian glands are more common in individuals with rosacea or other skin disorders. Common causes of increased tear evaporation include:
- Posterior blepharitis (meibomian gland dysfunction)
- Reduced blink frequency, which can occur with certain conditions like Parkinson’s disease or during focused activities such as reading, driving, or working on a computer
- Eyelid abnormalities, such as ectropion (outward turning of the eyelids) and entropion (inward turning of the eyelids)
- Eye allergies
- Preservatives in topical eye drops
- Environmental factors like wind, smoke, or dry air
- Vitamin A deficiency
There are several factors that can increase the likelihood of experiencing dry eyes. These factors include:
- Age: Dry eyes are more common in individuals over the age of 50 because tear production tends to decrease with age.
- Gender: Women are more susceptible to dry eyes, especially during times of hormonal changes such as pregnancy, while using birth control pills, or during menopause.
- Vision correction methods: Wearing contact lenses or having a history of refractive surgery can increase the risk of dry eyes.
- Diet: A diet low in essential nutrients like vitamin A (found in foods like liver, carrots, and broccoli) or omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish, walnuts, and vegetable oils) can contribute to dry eye symptoms.