What is Dry Eye?
Dry eye is a very uncomfortable disorder of the tear film, which causes damage to the surface of the eye and can lead to vision loss. There are two types of dry eye, evaporative dry eye and tear deficient dry eye. If left untreated, both types can cause damage to the eye, infections, vision loss, and even blindness.
The most dangerous aspect of dry eye is the misconception that it is merely an irritating condition, which can be left untreated. Many people believe that the discomfort associated with dry eye is normal, or that the condition will not cause any real damage to their eyes.
Dry eye is a very common problem, which becomes more likely as people age and is more common in women than men.
Environmental factors, activities, medications, physical condition and diseases can all contribute to dry eye.
Environmental factors that can cause dry eye include:
- Windy conditions
- Low humidity
- air conditioning and central heat
- air pollution
Activities and habits that often cause dry eye are:
- flying in airplanes
- Wearing contact lenses
- Watching TV
- Computer work
- Close work such as sewing and needle work
- Becoming dehydrated
Dry eye can be caused by certain medications such as:
- Acne treatments
- Birth control pills
Physical conditions and diseases that can cause dry eye include:
- Eyelid inflammation (blepharitis, rosacea)
- Abnormalities of the eyelids
- Hormonal changes
- autoimmune diseases (lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjögren's syndrome)
Sjögren's syndrome is an autoimmune disease that causes the body to attack its own moisture producing glands and often causes dry eye and dry mouth.
Symptoms and Treatment
Symptoms of dry eye are easily recognized. Common symptoms are:
- Eyes that feel itchy, irritated, gritty, or burn
- Eyes that are persistently red
- Development of stringy mucus
The primary treatment for dry eye is artificial tears. Drops made to reduce redness are not appropriate for dry eye. For cases that involve inflammation anti-inflammatory drugs are often prescribed. In severe cases a plug is sometimes used to block or slow the drainage of tears out of the eye.
Most cases of dry eye do not cause vision loss or blindness, but severe cases can cause damage to the surface of the eye and increase the risk of eye infections that can cause permanent vision loss. More common is a reduced quality of life, poor job performance and difficulty driving or reading. The constant pain and irritation lead to constant stress and fatigue.
No one has to live with dry eye. The solution may be as simple as over-the-counter artificial tears, but you should consult an ophthalmologist before choosing a brand. Some brands and types of eye drops are not appropriate for long-term treatment and your eye doctor can instruct you on how to get the most out of whatever treatment you choose.
If you have symptoms of dry eye, contact your eye doctor right away. The Khanna Institute of Orange County, California specializes in dry eye symptoms and treatment.