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Home » Dry Eyes: What You Need to Know

Dry Eyes: What You Need to Know

Woman Blonde Closeup. Dry Eye Treatment in Ellicott City

Dry eye syndrome (DES) is a chronic condition that strikes the citizens of Maryland every winter and summer although for many people it is a year-round affliction.

It develops when your eyes do not produce and maintain enough tears to keep the eye’s surface properly lubricated resulting in a wide range of symptoms that differ from person to person. This can be due to a reduction in tear production or an increase in the rate of tear evaporation from a lack of lipid in the tears that stem from oil glands in the eyelids. The effects can range from minor dryness and discomfort to pain, blurred vision and frequent eye infections like Pink Eye and Red Eye.

Dry Eye Disease Symptoms

Symptoms of dry eye syndrome can vary depending on the severity of the condition but can include:

  • Dry, itchy eyes
  • Burning or stinging
  • Watery eyes
  • Blurred vision
  • Pain and Irritation
  • Foreign body sensation

The main purpose of tears is to maintain the health of the cornea of your eye by washing away foreign matter and ensuring that the surface of your eye remains moist, smooth and clear. Tears also wash away dust particles from the surface of your eyes and contain enzymes that protect your eyes from bacteria that can cause infections.

Dry eyes is a condition that develops when the amount of tears produced is not sufficient to maintain the moisture balance in your eye. This can result in that scratchy sensation, a continuous feeling of dryness, stinging and a sensation of a foreign body in your eye. Ironically in an effort to fight off the condition, dry eyes can cause you to produce excessive tears, which is why some people experience watery eyes.

Causes of Dry Eye Disease

Dry eyes can occur naturally as a result of aging or hormonal changes, typically in women who are pregnant, taking oral contraceptives or going through menopause. In fact, women over 50 have a 50% greater risk of dry eye disease than men do of the same age. It can also result from taking certain medications that reduce tear production such as antihistamines, blood pressure medications and antidepressants. Environmental factors can also play a role in drying out the eyes and DED is common in areas where the climate the is dry, dusty and windy. Home or office air conditioners or heating systems and excessive time spent staring at a computer or television screen can also dry out eyes and exacerbate symptoms due to the lack of blinking while staring at our screens.

Individuals that suffer from certain medical conditions such as diabetes, blepharitis, lupus, arthritis and thyroid problems are more vulnerable to developing DED. Other causes can be due to eye surgery including LASIK, certain conditions in which the eyelids don’t close properly or extended contact lens use.

The Diagnosis of Dry Eye Disease in Ellicott City

Typically, dry eye disease can be diagnosed through a comprehensive eye exam and a description of your symptoms. On some occasions the eye doctor might decide to do a test that measures how quickly your tears evaporate from the surface of your eye. By instilling a simple dye called fluorescein (much like food coloring) the doctor is able to watch and count how long it takes the tears to start to break up after they’ve asked you to hold your eyes open after a blink. This is called TBUT or a Tear Break Up Time test. A low TBUT generally indicates a lipid (aka: oil) deficiency in the tears resulting from oil glands in the eyelids not functioning properly. In another type of test, called a Schirmer test, a strip of filter paper is placed under the lid of the eye and you will be asked to close your eye for five minutes. Following the test the amount of moisture on the strip will be measured. Schirmer tests are performed less frequently than a TBUT test.

 

Preventing Dry Eyes

If the cause of your dry eyes is something external or environmental, eliminating that cause may solve the problem and resolve the symptoms. Avoid dry environments, hair dryers, heaters and fans, (particularly directed toward the eyes) and smoky environments and wear eye protection such as wrap around glasses or goggles when in dusty or windy areas.

If you can't change your environment in a meaningful way- because it's the office you work in or it's the "time of year", then make small changes to your immediate surroundings. If working on the computer or watching television, make sure to blink purposefully as our natural tendency is to reduce our blink rate when staring at a screen. Use a humidifier to add moisture to dry indoor air. Also avoid rubbing your eyes as this can further irritate them. Staying hydrated by drinking at least 8 to 10 glasses of water per day can also help. If you are dehydrated, then your tear ducts will also be running on empty.

Dry eye disease won't have a permanent effect on your vision but will persist for as long at the root causes are present and there is no reason to endure dry, itchy and uncomfortable eyes, especially since there are so many treatment options to increase moisture and comfort. It’s also important to realize that this is a chronic disease that needs consistent treatment. Your eye doctor will work with you to create a long term strategy to keep your eyes as comfortable as possible.