If you are suffering from dry eyes, you probably have a lot of questions. What causes dry eyes? Is there anything I can do to fix the problem, and what kinds of treatments are available?
The answer is, there are many different conditions that can cause dry eyes, there are lifestyle changes that can be made to address your symptoms, and there are many different kinds of treatments available. We'll cover all that here.
What causes dry eyes?
Dry eyes can feel like your eyes are burning, stinging, a gritty sensation (like there is sand under your eyelids) blurred vision, light sensitivity, discharge, redness, and eye-watering. The last one may seem confusing, but when you consider that your eye’s lubrication system consists of three layers it makes more sense.
If there is an issue with your eye’s ability to produce mucous or oil, your eye may compensate by producing more water. But this water layer evaporates quickly and leaves your eyes feeling more irritated than before, starting the cycle anew. Similarly, when your eyes are producing too much water, it can dilute the mucous and oil layers too much and leave you with the same sensation of burning, itching, stinging, or grittiness.
When anyone or any of these layers are out of balance, the symptoms of dry eyes can result.
Dry eye symptoms are more common with age, but there are also environmental causes and some symptoms can arise due to certain medical conditions. Here’s a list of the following conditions.
If you are exposed to conditions that are windy, dusty, or smoky, you are far more likely to experience dry eye symptoms. This is because windy conditions evaporate your tears faster than they can be replaced, and there are particles and pollutants in dust and smoke that irritate your eyes, cause inflammation, and disrupt their natural lubricant balance. Also when your eyes are sensitive to an allergen, histamine is released which can cause burning, itching, redness, and eye-watering.
Staring at a screen all day can have a negative impact on your overall eye health and cause dry eye symptoms for several reasons. For one, we don’t blink nearly as often when we are staring at our laptops, our tablets, or smartphones as we do when we are not. The other reason is that when your screens are too bright themselves (or you are using them as a light source!) this can cause dry eye symptoms on its own. Wearing contact lenses can also interfere with your eye’s ability to evenly distribute lubrication, and cause dry eye symptoms.
Dry eyes can be a common side effect of aging as the processes and issues associated with healthy tear production begin to deteriorate. Just like everything else related to the aging process, the rate and progression of deterioration depend on several factors like your overall health, activity level, genetics, and how well you take care of your eyes.
Women are more susceptible to dry eye symptoms than men due to the hormonal disruptions that they experience over their lives. Pregnancy, their monthly cycle, breastfeeding, and menopause impact every system of the body, and your eyes are not immune.
Medications and Medical Conditions
Antidepressants, antihistamines, decongestants, pain relievers, birth control medication, hypertension medication, and more can all cause dry eye symptoms, as well as some of the medical conditions that they may be designed to treat. Some of these conditions include diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, Vitamin A deficiency, shingles, Bell's Palsy, and thyroid disease, in addition to others. You may be wondering what these conditions have to do with your eyes. The damage that many of these conditions can do to your capillaries, veins, and nervous system can also cause damage to the same tissues and organs that are responsible for maintaining the health of your eyes.
Eyelid Issues, Meibomian or Lacrimal Gland Dysfunction
When your eyelids are not able to successfully complete the blinking cycle due to injury, dysfunction, inflammation or other conditions, you may experience dry eye symptoms. Also, any issues with your meibomian or lacrimal glands can cause lubrication issues as well (most commonly due to aging.
What are some treatments for dry eyes?
While some causes of dry eyes (environmental or lifestyle) can be short-term and resolve with time, some causes of dry eye will need to be treated professionally by an optic aesthetician or optometrist.
Here are some of the most common treatments for dry eyes.
- Drops and Ointments: Depending on the exact underlying cause, your doctor may prescribe drops or an ointment for your dry eye in order to either correct the issue or alleviate symptoms. Eye drops that might be prescribed include cyclosporine or steroids. An antibiotic ointment might be prescribed for an infection, or even a diluted solution of baby shampoo for some conditions. There are also some over-the-counter (OTC) drops that your doctor can recommend that may be helpful.
- Surgery: There are many surgical options and other treatments available in the office that may help restore or preserve your natural tear production. Depending on the particular cause of your dry eyes, your doctor can recommend a particular course of treatment that may vary from minor to more ambitious.
- At-home treatments: As mentioned, simple lifestyle changes can reduce some dry eye symptoms. Avoid smoke, wear wrap-around glasses if possible in windy conditions, intentionally blink more when working on your computer, and clean your eyes gently with warm water to avoid irritation.
If you are experiencing dry eye symptoms and would like to start getting some relief, make an appointment today!