What is Dry Eye Syndrome? Symptoms, Causes & Treatment
Your eyes need enough lubrication to make sure they do not sting or burn. Tears act as a lubricant for your eyes, but when you fail to produce enough of it, it leads to inflammation and damage of your eye’s surface, thus causing dry eyes. It can get uncomfortable, and you usually will experience dryness of eyes in specific situations like on an airplane, in an air-conditioned room, or in front of the computer screen for hours together.
Fortunately, there’s a treatment for dry eyes, and it can range from lifestyle changes to prescribing eye drops. However, you will most likely have to take these actions indefinitely to control the symptoms. If your eyes become dry or irritant, make sure to visit your ophthalmologist immediately for treatment.
Today, you will learn more about dry eye syndrome, its symptoms, causes, and treatment options.
What is Dry Eye Syndrome?
To put it simply, dry eyes or dry eye syndrome is an eye condition in which your eyes do not produce enough tears to provide lubrication to the eyes. In such cases, visiting an eye doctor is a must before the situation worsens. For your eyes to remain healthy and comfortable, an adequate and consistent layer of tears on the surface of your eyes remains essential.
Additionally, dry eye syndrome can affect one or both eyes and can lead to inflammation in some cases. It can occur at any age and even in people who are fit and healthy. Sometimes, vitamin A deficiency can also lead to dry eyes. Now that you have slight awareness about dry eyes, you should learn more about the signs and symptoms. So, you can seek treatment accordingly.
What are Signs & Symptoms of Dry Eyes?
As mentioned earlier, dry eye syndrome can affect you in specific situations where your eyes find it difficult to produce enough tears to keep themselves lubricated. But, unless you know the signs, finding a solution might get complicated. Therefore, if you lookout for the following signs and symptoms, you can avert any drastic situation. You will find that these symptoms are far-ranging, and you cannot neglect them if you want your eyes to remain healthy and well.
The range of signs and symptoms of dry eye syndrome include:
- a stinging or burning sensation, and a feeling of dryness and soreness in your eyes
- stringy mucus in or around your eyes
- eye sensitivity to smoke or wind
- redness of your eyes
- eye fatigue after reading, even for a short time
- blurred vision, especially towards the end of the day
- difficulty keeping your eyes open
- eyelids sticking together when waking up
- sensitivity to light
- discomfort when wearing contact lenses
- double vision
If you notice any of these signs or symptoms affecting you, it can lead to difficulty functioning in your daily life. Moreover, if you find your eyes extra sensitive to light, increasing pain, or deterioration of eyesight, it’s time for you to visit the doctor at the earliest.
What Are Causes of Dry Eyes?
Tears form a film over your eyes to keep them healthy and lubricated. While our eyes produce tears all the time, the fluid covering the eyes may not remain stable between your blinks, thus causing dry eyes. It temporarily affects your vision, and if you do not take immediate measures, it can lead to something a lot more severe.
Further, water, fatty oils, protein, electrolytes, and bacteria-fighting substances make up your tears. It keeps your eye surface clear, thus helping you see clearly. Now, when you have dry eyes, it could result from an imbalance in this tear-producing mixture or insufficient production of tears. Here’s a detailed look at the causes:
- Decreased tear production: As you age, especially after 40 years, your tear production gradually decreases. When it falls beyond a specific limit, it can cause dry eyes or dry eye syndrome, leading to irritation and inflammation. According to some studies, dry eyes occur more commonly in women, most likely after menopause due to hormonal changes.
However, reduced tear production gets linked to other factors as well. They include autoimmune diseases, radiation treatment, vitamin A deficiency, diabetes, or even refractive eye surgeries like LASIK. But, in the latter case, the symptoms stay temporarily.
- Increased tear evaporation: The tear film on your eyes is composed of water, oil, and mucus. If any of these substances wear down or are in imbalance, it can lead to dry eyes. The oil present in tears helps smoothen the tear film and reduces the rate of evaporation. However, you will find increased tear evaporation when oil levels become faulty.
The tear film gets made up of three layers – oil (outer layer), water (middle layer), and mucus (innermost layer). When the central layer thins down, the oil and mucus may touch each other resulting in stringy discharge, which is the most common sign of dry eye syndrome.
Climatic or environmental factors and your lifestyle can also cause dry eyes. If you use a computer or a laptop continuously for hours together, the increased visual concentration reduces your blinking rate, causing your eyes to become dry.
Read more: How Dehydration impacts your eyes?
What are Risk Factors of Dry Eyes?
Factors that influence dry eyes could get termed as risk factors. It gives you an idea of whether you might find yourself experiencing dry eyes given these scenarios. You can avoid most of these risk factors by making some lifestyle modifications. However, some aspects occur naturally, and you need to monitor the health of your eyes continuously. In this way, you can avoid dry eye syndrome altogether.
You can take a better look at the following risk factors and avoid them wherever possible.
- Age – As you know, age plays a role in the production of tears. When you’re above 50 years of age, you will find a slight reduction in tear production, making dry eyes a common occurrence.
- Gender – Reduction in tear production more likely affects women than men, according to some studies. Women experience hormonal changes due to menopause, pregnancy, or birth control pills, which is how they experience dry eye syndrome more commonly.
- Diet – If you have to follow a diet that remains low in vitamin A or omega-3 fatty acids, the risk of you experience dry eyes increases. Therefore, eating foods like carrots, broccoli, fish, walnuts, and vegetable oils will reduce your deficiency and help you maintain healthy eyes.
- Medical – If you wear contact lenses or have a history of refractive surgery, you will most likely experience dry eyes.
What are Complications of Dry Eyes?
When it comes to any medical condition, complications can arise at any time. Therefore, you need to remain prepared for any unforeseen risk that could result due to dry eye syndrome. The best way to counter these complications is to increase its awareness and knowledge. You can go through the following list of issues that could happen due to dry eye syndrome.
- Eye infections – Tears protect the surface of your eyes from any contamination. However, without adequate production of tears, you may have an increased risk of eye infections.
- Damage to the surface of your eyes – If left untreated, dry eye syndrome can lead to inflammation of the eyes, abrasion of the corneal surface, corneal ulcers, or in some cases, even vision loss.
- Decreased quality of life – You might find it difficult to perform everyday activities, such as reading if you have dry eyes.
Dry Eyes: Prevention
Preventive measures always help in reducing the risk of dry eyes. If you know the situations that could cause dry eyes, it becomes easier for you to avoid them and be better prepared. Now that you already know the symptoms of dry eyes, you can adopt the following preventive tips. Most of these situations remain in your hands, therefore allowing you time to avoid dry eyes altogether. Here’s a look at some of the preventive measures:
- Avoid blowing air in your eyes through hair dryers, car heaters, air conditioners, or fans.
- Add moisture to the air during winters with a humidifier.
- Wear wraparound sunglasses or other protective eyewear to block wind and dry air.
- Take eye breaks during long tasks like reading or using a computer. You can close your eyes for a few minutes or blink for a few seconds to spread your tears evenly over your eyes.
- If you reside at high altitudes or are traveling in airplanes, it can get dry. So, you may find it helpful to frequently close your eyes for a few minutes at a time to minimize tear evaporation.
- Position your computer screen below eye level to avoid opening your eyes wider to view it.
- Quit smoking and avoid passive smoking. Ask your doctor for effective ways to stop smoking and if you don’t smoke, stay away from those who smoke. It can worsen dry eye symptoms.
- If you have chronic dry eyes, use eye drops (as prescribed by your eye doctor) even when your eyes feel well enough to keep them properly lubricated.
What are Diagnostic Procedure for Dry Eyes?
You will find several diagnostic procedures to determine the cause of dry eyes and subsequently finding a solution. Apart from your standard eye exam, other tests also help acquire the knowledge your ophthalmologist needs to prescribe the correct treatment for your dry eyes. As such, the following tests and diagnostic procedures will help you gain some insight into dry eye syndrome.
- A comprehensive eye exam includes a complete history of your overall health and the health of your eyes, which can help your ophthalmologist diagnose the cause of your dry eyes.
- Your eye doctor can use the Schirmer test to measure your tear production. In this test, blotting strips of paper get placed under your lower eyelids, and after a few minutes, he/she will measure the amount of strip soaked by your tears.
- In the phenol red thread test, a thread filled with pH-sensitive dye (tears change the dye color) gets placed over the lower eyelid, kept for 15 seconds, and then gets measured for tear volume.
- Some other tests use special dyes in eyedrops which help determine the surface condition of your eyes. The ophthalmologist looks for staining patterns on your corneas and measures the time it takes before your tears evaporate.
- A tear osmolarity test measures the composition of particles and water in your tears. If you have a dry eye disease, your eyes will carry less water.
What are Dry Eyes Treatments?
If you do not have acute dry eye syndrome, your ophthalmologist will prescribe regular use of over-the-counter eye drops. However, if you have severe and persistent symptoms, you might have to go for other treatment options. While some treatments focus on reversing the condition, others prevent it from getting worse. When you visit your eye doctor, he/she will prescribe the correct remedy for you, depending on your eyes. Let’s take a look at some of these treatment options.
- Medications – Your doctor might prescribe eye drops or medicines that reduce inflammation and increase tear production. Your ophthalmologist may recommend antibiotics or corticosteroids to reduce inflammation. If your tear production remains low, your doctor might prescribe cholinergic drugs, which will help increase it. You will find these medications in the form of pills, gel, or eyedrops.
- Surgery – If you have an eyelid-related condition, such as your eyelids remain turned outwards (ectropion), your ophthalmologist may refer you to an eye surgeon. He/she may specialize in plastic surgery of the eyelids – oculoplastic surgeon.
- Other procedures – Closing your tear ducts to reduce evaporation, using specialized contact lenses, eye masks to unblock oil glands, or using light therapy to massage your eyelids can get used to treating dry eyes.
Either way, only your eye doctor will know the kind of treatment that will help you get rid of dry eyes. So, seek consultation and guidance from your ophthalmologist before self-diagnosing the condition. If you notice any symptoms of dry eyes, book an appointment with the eye doctor immediately.
Although a common eye condition due to several factors, dry eye syndrome can cause severe damage to your eyes if left untreated. So, whenever your eyes feel irritated or inflamed, seek immediate medical help. When it comes to your eyes’ health, never wait it out as it can cause vision problems that you never had before. However, you have to find an eye doctor whose expertise and experience can give you guidance and treatment when it comes to dry eyes.
You can reach out to our experts at Dada Laser Eye Institute, Top Eye Hospital in India for the treatment of dry eyes. The eye doctors will explain the risks involved, share their knowledge, and make sure you find it comfortable to take the plunge. You can get in touch with us and get proper consultation by giving us a call at (+91) 992 299 5549 or visit our website to fill out a form.