Dry eye syndrome is a common condition that occurs when the tear film gets disrupted, and the eyes no longer have enough tears to keep them lubricated. It is also known as dry eye or dry eye disease.
The tear film is the outermost layer of the front surface of the eye. It keeps it moist, clean, and free of dust, debris, and microorganisms. It consists of the;
- Oily or lipid layer that keeps tears from evaporating too quickly.
- Watery or aqueous layer that helps to wash away dust, dirt, and foreign bodies.
- Mucous layer that keeps the tear film together.
The tear film can be disrupted by diseases and other conditions, leading to a reduction in tear production or an increase in tear evaporation.
Anyone can develop dry eye, but it is more common in women, people aged 50 years and above, and those that wear contact lenses. The condition rarely causes vision loss, but it can keep the sufferer miserable because of its uncomfortable symptoms. For this reason, many people who develop it look for ways to relieve their symptoms.
There are many options for relieving dry eye symptoms without visiting the clinic. They may, however, provide short term relief only. For best outcomes, consult the eye doctor at the clinic for proper diagnosis and treatment.
Causes of Dry Eye
There are many causes of dry eye. Some lead to a reduction in tear production, some trigger or worsen tear evaporation, while others result in both. The common causes include:
As people get older, usually from 50 years and above, the quality and quantity of tears produced reduce. This can cause dry eye.
Hormonal changes tend to cause dry eye. This is why many women develop dry eye during pregnancy, menopause, or while using hormonal contraceptives.
People tend to stare while using their computers or other digital devices. Staring reduces the frequency at which reflex blinking occurs and can also cause tears to evaporate faster, leading to dry eyes.
Eyelid problems can increase tear evaporation and cause dry eye. Blepharitis (eyelid inflammation), for instance, can cause dry eye by clogging the oily gland of the eyelids (meibomian gland) and reducing the production of the oily layer of the tear film responsible for limiting tear evaporation. Also, problems that make it difficult to close the eyelids completely expose the eyes to the environment during sleep, causing tears to evaporate faster. Examples include lagophthalmos (inability to close the eyelids completely) and ectropion /entropion (outward/inward turning of the eyelid and lashes).
Systemic health conditions
Diseases like diabetes, arthritis, Sjogren’s syndrome, and Graves disease can cause dry eyes. Most of them disrupt the production of tears. Graves disease, however, causes protruding eyeballs. This leaves the eyes exposed with increased evaporation of tears.
Exposure of the eyes to harsh environmental conditions
Some environmental conditions like too much air from AC vents and fans, windy or dry weather, smoke, and air pollution contribute a lot to dry eyes. Fans, air conditioners, and heating systems reduce the humidity in a room leading to faster evaporation of tears.
Medications like antihistamines, antidepressants, some antihypertensive drugs, and birth control pills can cause or worsen dry eyes.
Contact lens wear
Contact lenses use interferes with the distribution of tears on the surface of the eyes. So, prolonged wear may cause or worsen dry eye.
Symptoms of Dry Eye
Common symptoms of dry eye include:
- Burning sensation
- Watery eyes or feeling of dryness
- Mild itching
- Foreign body or gritty sensation
- Mild redness
- Light sensitivity
- Blurry vision
Ways to Get Relief from Dry Eye
Many situations cause or worsen dry eye, and so there are various options for relieving it. If you experience dry eye symptoms, it is important to be observant and attentive enough to identify situations that may be causing your symptoms. That way, you can adopt the option that is more likely to give you better relief from your symptoms.
Here are ways to relieve dry eye;
When performing tasks that require intense focus like working on your digital devices, reading, and driving, make a conscious effort to blink. Blink at least 12 to 15 times in a minute. This will keep the surface of your eyes lubricated.
If you are working for long hours on your computer or reading, take breaks in between Take your eyes off the screen or your reading materials every 20 minutes and look at something far away. Get up every one hour and walkabout in your office. Doing these will give your eyes a break and reduce the risk of dry eye.
Keep your eyes away from moving air, smoke, or air pollution
Stay away from the direction of air from AC vents and fans. Wear wraparound safety glasses or goggles if you are cycling or riding in a windy or dusty environment.
Drink enough water
Inadequate intake of water can affect tear production. To help your eyes produce enough tears, keep yourself hydrated.
Use over-the-counter eye lubricants or artificial tears
This will help your eyes and keeps them comfortable.
Use eyelid scrubs and lash scrubs
They help remove make-up, debris, and any bacteria that could clog or infect the glands of the eyelid.
Perform warm compress and lid massage
This can help open up the ducts of the meibomian gland of the eyelid. Make sure you perform the warm compress before massaging your eyelids. Warm compress heats the eyelid and softens the content of the oily gland. This makes it easy to express them while massaging the lids. Performing lid massage when the eyelid is cold and hard can damage the surface of your eyes.
Get the underlying condition treated
To do this, consult the eye doctor for accurate diagnosis and treatment recommendations. Learn more below.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Dry Eye
If your dry eye symptoms are persistent or severe, the best way to get a better and long-lasting relief is to consult the eye doctor for diagnosis and proper treatment. S/he will perform a dry eye assessment, comprehensive eye examination, and specific dry eye tests to identify the exact cause of your symptoms and recommend the most suitable treatment for you.
The treatment options include:
The most commonly prescribed drugs are eye- lubricating drops (artificial tears) and gels. Others include antibiotics and anti-inflammatory eye drops. They are prescribed when the dry eye is due to an infection or inflammation.
Meibomian gland expression
If the cause of dry eye is clogged eyelid gland (meibomian gland), the eye doctor will recommend opening up the clogged ducts to enable them to work better. This is done by applying warm compress and using cotton tip applicator, expressor paddles, or other equipment to unclog the ducts.
Omega 3 fatty acids supplements
The doctor may recommend Omega 3 fatty acids supplements if dry eye is due to the quality of the oily layer of the tear film. Omega 3 fatty acids boost the quality of the oily layer and also have anti-inflammatory effects.
Treatment of eyelid problems and systemic health conditions
If problems like blepharitis, lagophthalmos, diabetes, and arthritis are the cause of dry eye, treating these conditions can relieve your symptoms. To treat systemic health conditions, the doctor would refer you to the appropriate medical professional or recommend that you consult your medical doctor.
Change contact lens type or wearing schedule
If you experience dry eyes due to contact lens use, the doctor may recommend that you wear the regular contact lenses less often or stop using them entirely. A special type of contact lenses for dry eye known as scleral lenses may be recommended.
Closing your tear ducts to reduce tear drainage
If you do not produce enough tears, the eye doctor may recommend closing the tiny holes in the inner corners of your lower eyelid known as tear ducts or puncta. This prevents/reduces drainage of tears away from the eyes and helps to keep them lubricated.