What are ‘Dry Eyes’?
The eye needs to be continually lubricated, or bathed with tears. Normally, there is always a “film” of tears on the surface of your eyes. But if your eyes do not produce enough tears, the surface gets irritated. This condition is known as ‘dry eyes’.
What are the signs and symptoms of ‘dry eyes’?
Not enough ‘lubricating tears’. When you cry, your eyes produce ‘reflex tears’. But each time you blink, the eye produces ‘lubricating tears’ that spread over the surface of your eyes. These tears keep the eyes moist and comfortable.
Burning sensation or scratchy sensation on the surface of the eye.
Continual ‘watering eyes’ . This does not relieve the dryness, however, because the eyes water with reflex tears, not lubricating tears.
Not Enough Lubricating Tears
When you cry, your eyes make reflex tears. Each time you blink, another kind of tears, called lubricating tears, spread over the surface of your eyes. These tears keep the eyes moist and comfortable. You aren’t aware of these tears because they stay on the surface of the eyes. But without them, your eyes get dry. Then they burn or sting and feel scratchy. They may also water. This doesn’t relieve the dryness, however, because the eyes water with reflex tears, not lubricating tears.
How are ‘dry eyes’ diagnosed?
To find the cause of your dry eyes, your eye doctor will:
Ask about your health
Examine the tear film on your eyes, and
Measure the amount of tears your eyes produce.
What causes ‘ dry eyes’?
Many things can cause your eyes to become dry. These include:
- Heaters and air conditioners
- Wind, smoke, or dry weather
- Allergies such as hay fever
- Eyelid problems, injuries to the eye, or diseases like rheumatoid arthritis
How Lubricating Tears Flow
Lubricating tears flow from glands in the upper eyelid over the surface of the eye. From the eye, the tears drain into canals that lead to the nose.
Taking Your Health History
Be sure to tell your doctor about :
Any medical conditions you have. Some can cause the tear glands to stop producing enough tears.
Any medications you use, such as eyedrops or antihistamines.
Any contact lenses you wear.
Examining Your Eyes
Your eye doctor looks at your eyes through a special microscope called a slit lamp. This allows him or her to examine the tear film. Your eye doctor may also use eyedrops with dye to help show any dry spots.
Testing Your Tear Production
Your eye doctor also measures the amount of tears your eyes produce. First, your eyes may be numbed with anesthetic drops. Then your doctor folds filter paper over your lower lids. You’re asked to sit with your eyes closed for about 5 minutes. The paper absorbs the tear film. The amount of fluid in the paper tells your eye doctor the amount of tears your eyes produce.
How are ‘dry eyes’ treated?
Artificial tears are the most common treatment for dry eyes.
If artificial tears do not relieve your symptoms, your eye doctor may put in plugs.
A surgical procedure can stop the draining and increase the tear-film.
Artificial tears or lubricating eye-drops replace your natural lubricating tears. You can buy most lubricating eye-drops without a prescription. And you can use them as often as needed. Lubricating eye-drops are not the same as eye- drops to relieve redness or itching. Check with a pharmacist to be sure you buy the right drops.
Note: Most lubricating eyedrops contain preservatives to make them last longer. If your eyes are sensitive to the drops, or if you need to use them often, you may want to buy lubricating eyedrops made without preservatives. Your eye doctor may also suggest using a lubricating eye ointment at night.
Closing the punctum with plugs can help keep the tear-film on your eye. The plug acts like a stopper in a sink. It allows only a small amount of tears to drain out of your eye. Your eye doctor may first try temporary plugs that dissolve in a few days.
If these help, he or she may then put in long-term plugs. Your eyes will be numbed with drops when the plugs are inserted, so you should feel no pain. You should not feel the plugs once they are in.
If artificial tears or plugs do not relieve your dry eyes, your doctor may do minor outpatient surgery to narrow or block the openings to the drainage canals. If your dry eyes are caused by eyelid problems, your eye doctor may recommend other kinds of surgery.
Tips for Comfort
- Use a humidifier to make the air moist inside heated rooms.
- Wear wrap-around glasses when you are outside.
- Avoid wearing contact lenses or eye make-up.
- Avoid smoke, wind, hair-dryers, air-conditioners and aerosols.