What are Dry Eyes?
Dry eyes result from a lack of tear production. Tear production naturally decreases with age, leaving the eye exposed to irritants in the environment. Dry eyes are even more common with contact lens wearers and with women during menopause. Other factors, such as the sun, wind, and air from heating or air conditioning actually dry the eyes by evaporating the fluid from the eyes. Smoke and pollutants in the environment act as irritants, because the tears can’t efficiently and effectively wash away these pollutants.
The Origin and Flow of Tears
The delicate tear film acts as a protective covering on the eye and is made of three layers. The outer layer is oily and reduces evaporation of the tears. The middle layer is watery and cleanses the eye as in crying. The inner layer is made of mucus and allows the tears to adhere to the surface of the eye.
Watery tears flow into the eye from the glands located above the eye. These tears are released during injury and emotion. Lubricating tears produce the tear film, which originates in the glands located in the eyelids. This film is spread over the eye by blinking. Tears are also effective at reducing infections because they contain an antibacterial substance.
Symptoms of Dry Eyes
People with dry eyes will often complain of watery eyes because reflex tears (as in crying) are produced in response to irritation. These reflex tears are not helpful to lubrication, however, because they are the watery tears, not the oily lubricating tears. Other symptoms include: a scratchy, gritty or dry feeling; burning, stinging or redness; a stringy mucus; and sensitivity to light.
The Diagnosis and Treatment of Dry Eyes
The Schirmer and Lissamine Green Tests are common methods used to detect dry eyes. The Shirmer test determines how productive the tear film is, and the Lissamine Green test helps detect dry spots on the surface of the eye.
The most common approach to the treatment of dry eyes is one or more of the following:
- Artificial tears. These tears replace the moisture and are used as necessary throughout the day. It is important to use preservative-free artificial tears that come in individual vials. Bottled tears with preservatives can irritate the eye with continuous use.
- Refresh pm. This is an ointment that can be placed in the lower eyelids at bedtime, which increases comfort.
- Omega 3 vitamins. Omega 3 vitamins, such as Thera Tears Nutrition, also works with the anatomy of the eye to create more productive tears. Long term use of this vitamin is recommended for dry eyes.
- Restasis. This is a prescription drop that can be used if over-the-counter drops aren’t effective by themselves.
- Humidifier. Patients should use a humidifier whenever the furnace is turned on. If over-the-counter drops aren’t effective by themselves, Restasis drops can be prescribed.
- Punctal Plugs. These are very tiny soft plugs placed in the punctum (or tear duct) to block tear drainage and help keep productive tears on the surface of the cornea.
If you think you might be suffering from dry eyes, click here to fill out our quick email form or call our office at 810-732-2272, so we can be of service.