Dry eye syndrome (DES), also known as dry eye disease (DED), is a multifactorial disease of the tears and the ocular surface that results in embarrassment, visual disturbance, and tears film instability with probable damage to the ocular surface.
If you have dry eye syndrome, your eyes don’t generate sufficient tears or you aren’t able to continue a normal layer of tears to coat your eyes. As a result, your eyes cannot abolish dust and other irritants. The following are the most common complaints associated with dry eye syndrome:
- Foreign-body sensation and ocular dryness and grittiness
- Mucoid discharge
- Ocular irritation
- Excessive tearing (secondary to reflex secretion)
- Fluctuating or blurry vision
See your doctor right away if you have dry eyes and an unexpected increase in embarrassment or a sudden reduce in your ability to see.
Reading comprehensively, working on the computer, or spending extended hours in a dry environment may further make worse your eyes if you have this situation. If you have dry eye syndrome, your eyes may also be prone to bacterial infections or the surface of your eyes may become irritated, causing scarring on your cornea. Although it’s uncomfortable, dry eye syndrome approximately never causes lasting vision loss.
Symptoms of Dry Eye Syndrome
The most general symptoms of dry eye syndrome are burning, pain and redness in the eyes. Other general symptoms include watery tearing or stringy mucus in the eyes. You may find that your eyes get tired faster than they used to or that you have complexity reading or sitting at the computer for extensive periods. The feeling of having sand in your eyes and blurry vision are common.
Causes of Dry Eye Syndrome
A sufficient and steady layer of tears on the surface of the eye is necessary to keep your eyes healthy, contented and seeing well. Tears bathe the eye’s surface to keep it humid and wash away dust, debris and microbes that could harm the cornea and lead to an eye infection.
A normal tear film consists of three important components:
- An oily (lipid) component
- A watery (aqueous) component
- A mucous-like (mucin) component
Each section of the tear film serves a significant function. For example, tear lipids help keep the tear film from evaporating too rapidly and enhance lubrication, while mucin helps anchor and spread the tears across the surface of the eye.
Tears have three layers. There’s the oily outer layer, the watery middle layer, and the inner mucus layer. If the glands that produce the different elements of your tears are inflamed or don’t create sufficient water, oil, or mucus, it can lead to dry eye syndrome. When oil is missing from your tears, they quickly evaporate and your eyes cannot maintain a steady supply of moisture.
Risk for Dry Eye Syndrome
Dry eye syndrome is more frequent in people age 50 and older. It’s predictable that there are 5 million Americans in this age group with the situation. The majority of them are women, but the condition does occur in men. Women who are pregnant, on hormone replacement therapy, or going through menopause are more at risk. The following underlying conditions can also increase your risk:
- chronic allergies
- thyroid disease or other conditions that push the eyes forward
- lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and other immune system disorders
- exposure keratitis, which occurs from sleeping with your eyes partially open
- vitamin A deficiency, which is unlikely if you get sufficient nutrition
Factors Associated With Dry Eye Syndrome
A number of factors can increase your risk of dry eyes. These include:
Computer use. When working at a computer or using a smartphone or other portable digital device, we tend to blink our eyes less fully and less frequently, which leads to greater tear evaporation and increased risk of dry eye symptoms.
Contact lens wear. Though it can be complicated to establish the exact extent that contact lens wear contributes to dry eye problems, dry eye discomfort is a prime cause why people discontinue contact lens wear.
Aging. Dry eye syndrome can occur at any age, but it becomes increasingly more frequent later in life, particularly after age 50.
Indoor environment. Air conditioning, ceiling fans and forced air heating systems all can decrease indoor humidity and/or hasten tear evaporation, causing dry eye symptoms.
Outdoor environment. Dry climates and dry or windy circumstances swell dry eye risks.
Frequent flying. The air in the cabins of airplanes is extremely dry and can lead to dry eye problems, especially among frequent flyers.
Smoking. In addition to dry eyes, smoking has been linked to serious eye problems, including macular collapse, cataracts and uveitis. (For details, see our infographic about why smoking is bad for your eyes.)
How Is Dry Eye Syndrome Treated?
Eye drops that increase your eye moisture are among the most general treatments for dry eye syndrome. Artificial tears also work well for several people.
Your eye doctor might use plugs to block the drainage holes in the corners of your eyes. This is a relatively painless, reversible process that slows tear loss. If your situation is severe, the plugs may be suggested as a permanent solution.
The medication most commonly prescribed for dry eye syndrome is an anti-inflammatory called cyclosporine (Restasis). The drug increases the amount of tears in your eyes and lowers the risk of damage to your cornea. If your case of dry eye is severe, you may need to use corticosteroid eye drops for a short time while the medication takes effect. Alternative medications include cholinergics such as pilocarpine. These medications help stimulate tear production.
You need a well-balanced diet with enough protein and vitamins to keep your eyes healthy. Omega-3 essential fatty acid supplements are sometimes recommended to enhance the oil content of the eye. Usually, people need to take these supplements regularly for at least three months to see an improvement.
If you have severe dry eye syndrome and it doesn’t go away with other treatments, your doctor may recommend surgery. The drainage holes at the inner corners of your eyes may be permanently plugged to allow your eyes to maintain an adequate amount of tears.