4.88 million Americans ages 50 and older have experienced the dryness, burning and itching from dry eye disease. Dry eyes can be quite uncomfortable to experience, but are luckily very treatable. When possessing these symptoms, it is important to understand the causes behind them to effectively treat your eyes and improve your ocular health. The two overarching categories of dry eyes caused are either your eyes are not producing enough tears which can happen if one goes too long without blinking, or that the tears that are being produced are of poor quality. In this article we will discuss these causes of dry eye as well as why and how these problems occur.
SymptomsYou may initially be wondering if the symptoms you possess are linked to having dry eye syndrome. We have provided some of the most common dry eye symptoms in patients below.
- Stinging or burning
- Dull or sharp pain
- Redness in or around eyes
- General eye discomfort
- Decreased ability to see or focus vision
- Watery tears
- String-like mucus in the eye
If you are experiencing any of these uncomfortable symptoms, you may be curious to understand why they are occurring. In order to unwrap this issue, it is necessary to learn how the tear film works to keep our eyes in good shape.
How our Tears Work
Primarily, we must understand the role that tear production plays in keeping our eyes healthy. The purpose of our tear film is to keep the surface of the eye nourished and protected. The film is made up of three layers consisting of an oily outer layer, a middle watery layer and the inner mucus layer. This film spreads over the eye each time you blink to keep the eye moist. When the watery layer malfunctions, this leads to a lack of tears which causes dry eyes. When the oily layer malfunctions, this will lead to poor quality tears giving the same effect.
Types of Malfunctions
When experiencing dry eyes, it is important to visit a professional to determine the category that is causing your symptoms in order to determine proper treatment. Below we explain two of the primary categories of dry eye.
This category of tear film malfunction is due to lack of tears being produced from a disruption in the watery layer of tear film. Without enough of this layer, the surface of your eye lacks lubrication, leading to discomfort. If you believe this may be the cause of your dry eye symptoms, visiting an eye doctor can help lead to a proper diagnosis for treatment. In this case, your ophthalmologist will most likely measure your tear production and take a closer look at your tear film to determine treatment. If this is the case, it is likely artificial tears can be a viable treatment option.
Meibomian Gland Dysfunction
This term is the category in which the outer oily layer experiences a malfunction as discussed previously. In the lining of your eyelid, there are tiny glands called the Meibomian glands that release the oily layer over your eye. If these glands become disrupted or damaged, the oily layer may not be released properly which can lead to poor quality tears. By visiting an eye doctor, they can determine if this is the cause of your dry eye symptoms and recommend proper treatment that will release oil back into your tear film.
The Root of the Problem
Numerous outside factors can lead to these malfunctions in tear film, thus causing dry eyes. Refer to the list below to see if any could apply to you and be causing discomfort in your eyes.
- Long-term use of contact lenses
- Long-term exposure to dry or hot conditions
- Antihistamines and nasal decongestants
- Oral contraceptives
- LASIK surgery
- Hormone replacement therapy