By: Akshay Patil
Most have had this dreaded experience before: the irritated, gritty, scratchy or even burning feeling in your eyes. You make your way over to the optometrist’s office and they diagnose you with a case of dry eye, otherwise known as keratoconjunctivitis sicca.
What is dry eye?
Dry eye is a condition where your body does not lubricate the front of your eye sufficiently. The front layer of your eye has a thin tear film which provides lubrication, reduces the risk of eye infection, and keeps the surface of the eyes smooth and clear. This tear film is made up of three layers: the oily lipid layer, the watery aqueous layer and the sticky mucus layer. Patients with dry eye either do not produce enough tears, or the tears they produce are of poor quality. While it may sound counterintuitive, watery eyes may be a sign of dry eye because your body overcompensates and creates too many tears, but in this case quantity does not equal quality.
How did I get dry eye?
Usually, there is a combination of the following factors to contribute to dry eye:
- Age – As our bodies age, so do our eyes. Patients who are older than 65 tend to suffer from dry eye at higher rates.
- Environmental Conditions – As it turns out, smoking isn’t just bad for your lungs – it also leads to dry eye. Also, wind and dry climates increase tear evaporation.
- Personal decisions – Refractive surgery such as LASIK or long term contact lens can decrease tear production and cause dry eye symptoms. Depending on the type of dry eye you may have, your doctor may suggest a variety of treatment options.
What do I do about my dry eye?
- Artificial Tears – Anybody who has been to a grocery store can tell you how many dry eye drops there are to choose from. However, only your doctor can guide you in the right direction as to which over-the-counter drop would work best for your specific type of dry eye. For example, if the watery layer of your tear film is insufficient, it would not be very beneficial if you used a drop that only supplemented your oily layer. Furthermore, if the dry eye is more severe, there are also prescription drops that may provide relief.
- Punctal Plugs – Your eyes are naturally built with one faucet, known as the lacrimal gland, which secretes tears. They are also naturally built with two drains, known as puncta, which allow for a good flow of the tears across the eye. For patients who have good quality tears, a doctor may choose to “plug” one of these drains so that your tears stay on your eyes for longer periods of time. This is a quick, painless procedure that usually has great results.
- Environmental Factors – Some of the problems we suffer from are brought on by our chosen lifestyle. Interestingly, when we stare at our favorite screens (our phones, televisions, laptops, etc.), we tend to blink far less than normal. When it comes to dry eye, it is important to blink regularly. Studies have also shown supplementing your diet with omega-3 fatty acids may increase tear production.
If you are feeling any symptoms of dry eye, please visit your optometrist for a comprehensive dry eye evaluation – you’ll be glad you did.