Your eyes constantly produce tears at a slow and steady rate so that they stay moist and comfortable. Some people are not able to produce enough tears or the appropriate quality of tears to keep their eyes healthy or comfortable. This condition is known as dry eye.
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Symptoms of dry eye include uncomfortable eyes, scratchiness, stinging, sensitivity to light, a sensation of something in the eyes, stringy mucus in or around the eyes, eye redness, difficulty wearing contact lenses, difficulty with nighttime driving, eye fatigue, and blurry vision.
Sometimes people with dry eye will experience excess tearing. This is the eye’s response to the discomfort from dry eye. When the eyes get irritated, the gland that makes tears releases a larger than usual volume of tears, which overwhelm the tear drainage system. These excess tears then overflow from your eyes.
If left untreated, dry eye can lead to eye infections, damage to the surface of the eye - such as inflammation or abrasion - and difficulty performing everyday activities.
Dry eyes often increases with age as tear production slows. For women, this is especially true after menopause. Dry eye can be associated with other problems like Sjögren’s syndrome, lupus, arthritis, rosacea, and blepharitis. Seasonal allergies can also lead to dry eye, and some medications have also been known to cause the condition. Dry eye can also be caused by dry air, sitting too close to heat sources, and spending too much time staring at a screen. Participating in outdoor activities like skiing without proper eye protection can also contribute to dry eye.
Your ophthalmologist can usually diagnose dry eye by examining your eyes. Sometimes tests that measure tear production are necessary. The Schirmer tear test measures tear production by placing filter-paper strips between your eyeball and your lower lid. Your ophthalmologist might also test you for dry eye using diagnostic drops to check for patterns of dryness on the eye’s surface.
You can try to prevent tears from evaporating by avoiding dry air from overheated rooms and hair dryers. A humidifier can add moisture to dry air. Try to avoid dry air and wind when outside. Deserts and air at high altitudes can be very dry. Wraparound sunglasses or other protective eyewear can be considered.
Smoking irritates dry eyes and should be avoided.
If using a computer or other electronic device, try to regularly blink your eyes and take frequent breaks from looking at the screen. Placing a warm washcloth or Bruder mask over your eyes for 15 minutes a day can also help stimulate tear production.
A good diet, particularly one high in vitamin A, can also help prevent dry eye and keep your eyes healthy in general.
Treatments for dry eye include eyedrops called artificial tears to lubricate the eyes and help maintain moisture. Your ophthalmologist may conserve your tears by closing the channels through which your tears drain.
In less developed countries, dry eye due to a lack of vitamin A in the diet is not uncommon. Ointments with vitamin A can help dry eye caused by unusual conditions like Stevens-Johnson syndrome or pemphigoid. A diet with foods that have a high Vitamin A content can also help with dry eyes.
Dry eye treatment is available in all the locations in the Charlotte, NC region where eye services are offered.
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