What Are Dry Eyes?
Dry eyes occur when there is an imbalance in the tear system. Tears are more than drops of water flowing from your eye, they combine water, oils and even mucus mixed together to evenly spread lubrication, antibodies and special proteins to soothe the eye and help resistance to infection. Special glands located around the eye secrete the mixture in response to the eye’s needs. When there is an imbalance in that system, the result is termed dry eyes.
The eye will often respond to this imbalance with excessive tearing, which is the eye’s reaction to the need for more lubrication. However, this response is inadequate since tears contain mostly water, rather than the unique combination of lubricants that the eye needs. Tears will wash away debris in the eye, such as excessive dust, but will not properly lubricate the surface of the eye.
Symptoms of dry eyes include:
- Excessive unexplained watery tears
- Red or burning eyes
- Feeling that something is in the eye
- Sensitivity to light
- Blurred vision
Environmental conditions can cause dry eyes, including air conditioning, heat or even air pollution. But there are other causes as well, including:
- Medications such as antihistamines and birth control pills
- Diseases that affect the ability to make tears, such as Sjogren’s syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis and collagen vascular diseases
- Problems with the eyelids that don’t allow them to close properly
There is no cure for dry eyes, but treatment can include:
- Artificial tear drops and ointments. Artificial teardrops are available over the counter and are the often the easiest treatment for dry eye symptoms. Try different types to find the best solution for your eyes. A thicker lubricant, such as an ointment, can be used at night.
- Restasis. The FDA approved Restasis, a prescription eye drop, for treatment of chronic dry eye in 2002. This prescription eye drop helps your eyes increase their own tear production with continued use, rather than just replacing tears to lubricate the eyes.
- Temporary punctal occlusion. Sometimes, a procedure is done to temporarily close the ducts that drain tears out of the eye. This is a relatively painless test in which a dissolving plug is inserted into the tear drain of the lower eyelid. This is done to see whether permanent plugs could provide an adequate supply of tears.
- Permanent punctal occlusion. If temporary plugging of the tear drains works well, then silicone plugs may be the next step. Plugs hold tears around the eyes when they are in place, but can be removed. Many patients find that the plugs improve comfort and reduce the need for artificial tears.
- Other medications. Sometimes other medications, such as topical steroids, may also be helpful.
- Surgery. Another option is that the ducts that drain tears onto the nose can be surgically closed to help the tears remain around the eye. This is typically an outpatient procedure with local anesthetic and no limitations in activity after having this surgery.
Can I Wear Contact Lenses with Dry Eyes?
New kinds of soft contacts have been designed specifically for people with dry eyes. Since these lenses retain moisture better than other soft lenses, they remain much more comfortable.
Another option is to choose gas-permeable contact lenses. GP lenses are smaller and don’t absorb moisture from your eyes, causing less dryness. Your eye doctor will be able to give you advice as to the best type of contact lenses for your eyes.
Best office for eye care in the Valley. Dr. McDougal is professional and kind.
— Donald S.
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