Dry eye syndrome is a condition that is characterized by chronic lack of sufficient lubrication and moisture in the eye. Nearly 10 million Americans suffer from dry eye syndrome. While many suffer from this condition as a result of the normal aging process, there are other causes that contribute to it. Read about the causes of dry eyes and what you can do to tackle this condition. Treating dry eye syndrome is not only about relief from discomfort but also protecting the cornea.
Dry Eye Syndrome
Tears perform the task of keeping the eyes well lubricated. Tears bathe the eyes, wash out dust and debris and keep the eyes moist. They also contain enzymes that neutralize the microorganisms that are found in the eyes. Tears keep your eyes moist, help ocular wounds heal and guard against infection. They also wash away allergens and protect the eye. The quality of the tear film lubricating the eye is responsible for dry eyes.
In dry eye syndrome, the eye doesn't produce enough tears or the tears have a chemical composition that causes them to evaporate quickly. Dry eye syndrome is common fallout of increasing age since the body produces less oil over time. The oil deficiency has a bearing on the tear film since the water layer over the eye dries faster. This condition is more pronounced in women than men. Women suffering from dry skin or menopausal symptoms may notice dry eyes too. There can be many other causes for dry eyes:
A person suffering from dry eye syndrome feels a persistent itchy and burning feeling. There is a 'foreign body' sensation within the eye. The patient may feel persistent dryness and scratching in the eyes. Surprisingly watery eyes may also be a symptom of dry eye syndrome since the tear glands may be over stimulated into producing tears that do not help in lubricating the eye. Tears of this kind as well as those produced as a result of reflex response to outside stimulus or emotional reaction do little to soothe dry eyes.
A person suffering from dry eyes is likely to feel discomfort after extended periods of computer or TV viewing. A significant percentage of patients also experience photophobia and intermittent blurring or other visual problems. Stringy mucus may appear in or around the eyes. Even with less severe symptoms, persons suffering from dry eye experience reduced work capacity and decreased quality of life.
A condition of dry eyes is determined by a physician who will measure the production, evaporation rate and quality of tear film. A thin strip of filter paper placed at the edge of the eye, called a Schirmer test, is one way of measuring this. An ophthalmologist can look at the film of tears on your eye using a slit lamp (bio-microscope).
A dye such as fluorescein may be placed in the eye to make the tear film more visible. Treatment for dry eyes involves trying to preserve as much of the eye's natural moisture as possible. Eye drops act as artificial tears and provide temporary relief. Anti-inflammatory agents are prescribed for more severe cases of dry eyes.
While topical steroids can be used for inflammation, they can cause side effects after prolonged use. Some forms of dry eye syndrome benefit from the placement of tiny plugs in the ducts that drain tears from the eye. These special plugs trap the tears on the eye, keeping it moist. This may be done on a temporary basis with a dissolvable collagen plug or permanently with a silicone plug. For severe cases, special goggles called moisture-chamber spectacles can be worn.