All symptoms that constitute a condition where the amount of tears available to lubricate the eyes is grossly insufficient are collectively termed as Dry Eyes Syndrome. The regulated flow of tears is a vital precondition for maintaining the required comfort levels in the eyes. The tears which are composed of oil and water provide for lubrication, mucus creation and spreading of the antibodies on the surface of the eyes to prevent infections. Whenever due to any reason there is a reduced production of tears from the glands the individual starts experiencing the various signs of dry eyes which may range from minor discomfort to severe irritation and inflammation.
Lack of lubrication of the surface subsequently leads to several other complications which warrant specialized medical attention to arrest the degradation of visual capabilities. Dry eyes syndrome is not a serious condition to start with but has the potential to cause drastic consequence unless treated early.
Causes of Dry Eyes
The three most significant causes of dry eyes are – reduction in the amount of tear production, excessive evaporation of tears and abnormal production of mucus in the tear layer. These three causative factors may manifest themselves individually or simultaneously to create dry eyes.
Reduction in Tear Production
The main reasons for decreased production of tears which can create the deficiency include age, hormonal changes (both natural as well as medicine induced) and various diseases such as rheumatism, arthritis and lupus. Birth control pills and antihistamines have been found to be prime culprits in creating this kind of hormonal imbalance that leads to lesser production of tears in the eyes.
Excessive Evaporation of Tears
The increased rate of evaporation of tears from the surface is another of the reasons that induces dry eyes. This kind of evaporation takes place whenever there is a thinner layer of lipid on the surface than what is desirable. Reduction in the frequency of blinking may also increase the eye’s exposure leading to faster evaporation. In certain medical conditions such as Bell’s palsy the individual faces difficulties in closing the eyes which also results in higher tear loss through evaporation.
Abnormal Mucus Production
Certain autoimmune diseases may cause the fluctuations in the amount of mucus being produced. Lesser mucus implies that the tears are not adequately spread over the surface leaving some portions dry. Also insufficient lipid layers due to the secreting glands malfunction or bacterial infection of the eyes may lead to dryness setting in.
Symptoms of Dry Eyes
There are various indications that should alert the individual about the onset of the dry eyes syndrome so that preventive and curative measures can be initiated. Some of the most common symptoms which should not be overlooked are listed below:
- Stinging and a sensation of burning in the eyes.
- Irritation while exposed to smoke and wind.
- Itchiness along with an urge to scratch.
- Heightened sensitivity to light.
- Redness of the eyes.
- Blurring of vision.
- Feeling of sand or dust particle in the eyes.
- Increased dryness with lower humidity environment.
Reflex Tears: This is an interesting phenomenon wherein the eyes actually secrete more tears as a result of the dry eyes condition. In conditions of excessive irritation and inflammation the eyes begin secreting tears which can otherwise be experienced during heightened emotions, and in case of injury. However these tears are primarily composed of moisture which is not adequate to provide the necessary lubrication. This process lasts for a short period after which the eyes start itching once again.
Severe Symptoms: Severe eye pain that is accompanied with a feeling of the presence of any foreign body in the eyes is a condition that must be urgently attended to by a specialized ophthalmologist to prevent any kind of permanent damage to the eyes. Light sensitivity is also an indicator of the extreme severity of the condition which must be taken seriously.
Treatment for Dry Eyes
Diagnosis of the condition is by examining the eyes and conducting a test called the Schirmers Tear test which can measure the rate of tear production in the eyes. The results of these tests will confirm the condition of dry eyes so that the treatment actions can commence. There are various means of treatment depending on the actual condition and the causative factors. The doctors may adopt any of the available procedures or a combination thereof so as to correct the condition at the earliest.
Artificial Tears by Drops and Ointments
This is the most basic treatment available for the condition which entails artificially introducing some amount of tears into the eyes through drops and ointments so as to maintain the minimum required degree of lubrication on the surface. These kinds of tear drops are available over the counter but their suitability to the individual type must be checked prior to regular use.
The ducts which drain away the tears from the eyes are blocked by a plug in this method of treatment. Initially a temporary plug is placed to determine the efficacy after which a permanent plugging is undertaken for those patients who suffer from chronic dry eyes. This method has been found to be quite helpful in most cases and is a painless procedure which takes very little time. The permanent plugs that are installed are generally made of silicon and are removable as well as replaceable in case of discomfort being felt by the patient.
This is a new development which has been approved by various government agencies due to its high rate of success and minimum expected side effects as a treatment against chronic dry eyes. This procedure involves putting an eye drop that stimulates higher production of tears by the eyes which can reduce the symptoms of dry eyes.
A variety of topical medications in form of steroids and tear boosting tablets are also available in the market. However their effectiveness in countering the situation varies from individual to individual.
In certain complicated cases where other means are unable to provide relief from dry eyes, surgery is resorted to for permanently blocking the ducts that drain away the tears. This surgery is a minor procedure is done with local anesthesia around the eyes.
Preventive Measures against Occurrence of Dry Eyes
A few precautions and preventive measures against dry eyes can be of immense help in keeping this condition at bay in most cases. Listed below are some of the proven means of preventing the onset of this condition and reducing its severity in chronic cases.
- Remember to take sufficient and regular breaks while reading or working on the computer with sufficient blinking. A break every 10 minutes is the ideal condition to keep the eyes lubricated.
- Increase the daily intake of water as it aids the production of tears in the eyes.
- Smoke, dust, pollens, pollutants and other airborne particles can be avoided by regular use of protective eye glasses whenever exposed to such conditions. This will significantly lessen the irritation of the eyes which tend to drain out more tears.
- There are several means by which moisture is lost from the body. Take steps to keep the body moisturized under varying weather conditions.
- Applying warm compresses on the eyes is a wonderful way to trigger more tear production in the eyes.
- Do not use over the counter drops that claim to reduce redness of the eyes. They are extremely dehydrating and can suck out the tears from the surface of the eyes.
In many cases the dry eyes in patients is often linked to their lifestyles. Making suitable amendments to some habits can go a long way in reducing and eliminating the occurrence of red eyes. Smoking is one of the main contributors to dry eyes and must be reduced or quit in order to ensure that the eyes remain lubricated. Contrary to popular belief, coffee is great for increasing tear production. Proper eye care will not only ensure that the irritation and discomfort associated with dry eyes are avoided but will also result in better vision for a longer period.