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Dry eyes 101

Updated: May 1, 2019

The eye is naturally coated by a surface of tears that helps to maintain clear vision and prevent infection. If there is a disruption in tear quality and/or quantity, the eye isn’t adequately lubricated and inflammation can occur. Dry eye is a chronic condition that occurs when there is inflammation on the front surface of the eye.


What causes it?

There are 3 tear layers:

1. Mucin (innermost) layer allows tears to spread evenly

2. Aqueous (middle) is the water layer and supplies lubrication and nourishment to the cornea and conjunctiva

3. Lipid (outermost) is the oil layer that prevents evaporation


Image via Refresh

If there is a disruption to any of the layers, dry eye can develop. Risk factors for dry eye include:


Age: tear production decreases with time

Medications: antihistamines, birth control pills

Women: altered hormone levels during pregnancy and post-menopause

Autoimmune disorders: Sjogren’s syndrome

Eyelid/skin disorders: blepharitis, meibomian gland dysfunction, rosacea

Environment: wind, smoke, air conditioning, heaters (increased tear evaporation)

Seasonal allergies

Prolonged digital device use: insufficient blinking and increased tear evaporation

Laser eye surgery


Dry eye has a spectrum of symptoms, from those who experience no symptoms to those who can have severe forms of the following:


-Blurry vision

-Burning

-Stinging

-Itching

-Red eyes

-Scratchy sensation, feels like something is in the eye

-Watery eyes


How do you treat it?

Similar to putting lotion on dry skin, dry eyes need additional moisture. Most dry eye cases can be successfully managed with over-the-counter artificial tears, gels, and ointments. For more severe cases, silicone or collagen punctal plugs can be inserted to prevent tears from draining through the tear ducts, and/or a prescription medication may be prescribed. If necessary, contributing systemic medications may need to be changed after consulting with a physician.


Some helpful tips

For those who frequently use digital devices, your eyes don't blink as much when staring at the screen. Try to reduce screen time, take frequent breaks, and remember to blink frequently. For those with eyelid disorders, warm compresses and lid scrubs are beneficial.


There is unfortunately no cure for dry eye, but with the right treatment plan, symptoms can be successfully managed so it does not negatively impact your quality of life. Talk to you eye doctor about the right solution plan for you.

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