It is estimated that 33 million Americans have some form of Dry Eye Disease.
Tears are more than a means of expressing sadness and joy. They are an essential part of maintaining healthy eyes and good vision. When tears are functioning well, we don’t even think about them. But when they aren’t, we begin to notice the following symptoms:
- Stinging and itching
- Burning sensation
- Inflammation, redness
- Sandy, gritty feeling
- Sensitivity to light
- Blurry vision
- Excessive tearing
Excessive tearing? How can this be a symptom of Dry Eye Disease (DED)? Because healthy tears are made up of a specific formula containing three components: an outer layer of oil, a middle layer of water, and an inner layer of mucus. If this composition is out of balance, your eyes will not be lubricated sufficiently. And, when the cornea becomes too dry, tear glands will overcompensate and stimulate too much of the watery component. Odd as it seems, your eyes can be overflowing with tears and still be “dry”.
Why Do We Get Dry Eyes?
There are many reasons for this to happen. Aging is one of the most common causes. Environment can play a role too. Hot, dry and windy weather as well as heaters and/or air conditioners may be a problem. Ceiling fans that blow directly on you at night could be another reason you wake up with that scratchy, sandy feeling. Computer and all digital use are also a big issue because users have a way of staring at the screen for long periods of time and forgetting to blink. In younger people, this non-blinking behavior is a marked cause of dry eyes, as is long term use of contact lenses. Even problems with your eyelids can cause dry eyes. Sometimes the lids will turn outward (ectropion) or inward (entropion); conditions which can be addressed surgically. Inflamed eyelids (blepharitis) are often another cause. This can be related to meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD). Certain types of medical conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, eczema, and Sjogren’s syndrome, to name just a few, can cause dryness. Some medications, like antihistamines or diuretics, also produce dry eye symptoms.
Are There Treatments to Help?
If you have any of the symptoms above, come in to confirm a diagnosis. The Eye Associates is an Accredited Dry Eye Center of Excellence and can perform an osmolarity test, (saltiness of your tears) which analyzes the quality of your tears and determine if you have dry eye disease.
Dry Eye Disease is generally a condition that is not cured (depending on the cause), but it can be managed. Treatment options usually fall in four categories: increasing the amount of tears kept in the eyes, decreasing tear evaporation, treating inflammation, addressing eyelid function and meibomian gland dysfunction.
Keep in mind that DED is frustrating and requires patience. It is a complex medical problem that has no quick fixes, and one that may need several therapies before finding a treatment that works for you. And treating dry eyes in the early stages is important. If meibomian gland dysfunction is the cause, waiting too long to treat may allow the glands to atrophy. Once that happens, there is no way to restore gland function. If the quality of your tears is poor, the long term effect is that the ocular surface cells can become damaged.