If you suffer from dry eye syndrome it means that your eyes do not have enough tears to keep them comfortable. This may happen if your eyes don’t produce enough tears to keep the eye surface moist, or if your tears do not stay on your eyes long enough. Over time, the resulting dryness can damage the corneal surface of your eyeball.
It is the job of tears to lubricate the eye and stop the surface from drying out. A thin film of tears is swept over the eye surface every time you blink. There are three parts to your tear film; the watery layer, the oily layer and the mucin layer. To maintain eye comfort and health, all three layers of the tear film need to remain intact between blinks.
What causes dry eye syndrome?
Factors that cause or contribute to dry eye include:
- ageing, since tear production slows as you get older
- medical conditions, such as arthritis
- medication, including oral contraceptives, antidepressants, antihistamines, diuretics and beta-blockers
- climatic conditions, such as dry air and wind
- irritants, such as cigarette smoke, dust or chemical exposure
- any trauma to the eye (including burns)
- infrequent or incomplete blinking
- prolonged periods of time in front of a computer screen
- laser surgery and/or cataract surgery.
What are the symptoms of dry eye?
Common symptoms include:
- stinging or burning
- a feeling of grittiness, or the sensation of having something foreign in your eye (like an eyelash or a grain of sand)
- itchiness (particularly in the corners of the eyes)
- occasional blurred vision
- tired eyes (a feeling like you need to close the eyes)
- mucus around the eyelids, particularly when you wake up
- watery eyes – surprisingly when the eyes are dry, your eyes may overcompensate by overproducing tears
How is dry eye treated?
Treatment may aim to increase your tear production, maintain tear film volume or prevent excess loss of tears. Whilst there is no cure, this condition can be easily managed through a variety of treatment options.
Treatment may include:
- Regular use of lubricating eye drops, gels or ointments
- Prescription eye drops and/or oral medication
- Eyelid massage with warm compress to boost the natural lubrication of your eyes
- Special plugs can be inserted into the tear ducts to prevent excessive loss of tears
- Changing medication that may be the cause of your dry eye