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What is Dry Eye?

Dry eye means that your eyes do not produce enough tears or that you produce tears that do not have the proper chemical composition or there is a dysfunction in the tear layer.  The tears your eyes produce are necessary for overall eye health and clear vision.

Is dry eye really that big of a problem?

An estimated 40 million people in the U.S. are affected by dry eye.  Over 500 million dollars are spent on dry eye symptom relief annually in the U.S.  Symptoms of dry eye can range from mild to severe.  If you are one of the people that is experiencing severe dry eye, then you know it can be disabling.

What causes dry eye?

There are many causes for dry eye.  Often, dry eye is part of the natural aging process.  It can also be caused by poor blinking or eyelid problems, medications like antihistamines, oral contraceptives and antidepressants, a dry climate, wind and dust, general health problems like arthritis or Sjogren's syndrome and chemical or thermal burns to your eyes.

What are the symptoms of dry eye?

If you have dry eye, your symptoms may include irritated, scratchy, dry, uncomfortable or red eyes, a burning sensation or feeling of something foreign in your eyes and blurred vision.  Excessive dry eyes may damage eye tissue, scar your cornea (the front covering of your eyes) and impair vision and make contact lens wear difficult.  If you have symptoms of dry eye, call our office for a dry eye evaluation.

What if my eyes water all the time, is this dry eye?

The majority of those with dry eye symptoms actually don’t have “dry eye”.  They have a dysfunction of the tear layer.  Consider the structure of the tears.  Like a house, the tears must have a foundation, walls and roof or it fails to function.  The foundation of the tears is a mucin layer that integrates with the corneal tissue.  This allows the aqueous which is a viscoelastic moisture layer to adhere to the corneal tissue and provide a smooth refractive surface required for clear vision.  This aqueous layer acts as the walls.  Intermixed and overlying the aqueous is the oily layer called the meibum which acts as the roof of the tear structure.  If a hole forms in the roof of your house then damage occurs.  If there is dysfunction within this oily layer such that there is a ‘hole’ in this roof, then the aqueous layer evaporates quickly resulting in discomfort and dry eye symptoms which signals to the lacrimal gland to send more tears.  Because there is nothing wrong with the lacrimal gland more tears are produced, but in the wrong proportion and your eye weeps.

How do you treat dry eye?

Dry eye cannot be cured, but we can prescribe treatment so your eyes remain healthy and your vision is unaffected.  Treatment depends on the cause.  Some treatments that we might prescribe include:

  • Blinking more frequently.
  • Increasing humidity at home or work.
  • Using artificial tears and using a moisturizing ointment, especially at bedtime.
  • Warm compresses and lid massage to improve meibomium (oil) gland function.
  • Prescription eye drops for dry eye such as Restasis and/or corticosteroids.
  • In some cases, small plugs are inserted in the corner of the eyes to slow tear drainage. Sometimes, surgical closure of the drainage ducts may be recommended.

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