Dry eyes occur when there are inadequate tears to lubricate the eyes. This condition is medically termed as keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS) or more commonly known as dry eye syndrome.
Dry eye syndrome is a common condition that affects almost 37% of the people. It may root from insufficient tear production or poor quality tears. can be inadequate for many reasons. Generally, dry eyes feel uncomfortable, may sting or burn, and may disrupt normal activities temporarily.
Common scenarios where you may experience dry eyes are when you are on an airplane, while riding a bike, in an air-conditioned room, or when you have been staring at a computer screen for a long period of time.
Usual treatments include eye drops and lifestyle changes which can lessen discomfort. You will likely need to practice these measures continuously to manage the symptoms of dry eyes.
Dry eyes may affect one or both eyes. Symptoms that may manifest are:
- Mucus around the eyes
- Burning, itchy, or stinging sensation on the eyes
- Eye redness
- A feeling of having a foreign substance in your eyes
- Sensitivity to light
- Difficulty using contact lenses
- Problems with nighttime driving
- Blurred vision
- Eye fatigue
Tears are a mixture of water, fatty oils, and mucus. Tears are responsible for “cleaning up” any dirt or substance on the surface of your eyes. They also lubricate your eyes to be smooth, clear, and away from infection. Without enough tears, your eyes are susceptible to irritation. Hence, Dry eye syndrome is one type of irritation that can be acquired from decreased tear production, increased tear evaporation, or imbalance in the composition of your tears.
Here are some of the causes explained:
- Decreased tear production. Common causes of decreased tear production may be stemming from aging, medical conditions like diabetes, scleroderma, vitamin A deficiency, medications like antihistamines, decongestants, and surgery. Tear gland damage from swelling or radiation can also decrease tear production.
- Increased tear evaporation. This can be caused by too much wind, smoke, dry air, blinking less often than normal, and eyelid problems. Some eyelid problems may include ectropion which is the out-turning of the lids and entropion which is the in-turning of the lids.
- Imbalance in tear composition. The normal tear film should have three basic layers: oil, water, and mucus. Imbalance with any of these layers could cause dry eyes. For instance, the oil layer produced by small glands at the edge of your eyelids (meibomian glands) may become clogged. These blocked meibomian glands could cause inflammation along the edge of the eyelids (blepharitis), rosacea, or other skin disorders.
Factors that could make you more susceptible to experiencing dry eyes are the following:
- Being at 50 years of age and above. As we grow old, our tear production tends to decrease which makes it common for adults to experience dry eyes.
- Being a woman. Due to hormonal changes caused by pregnancy, the use of birth controls, and menopause can cause more women to lack tears.
- Eating low vitamin A diet. Vitamin is commonly found in carrots, liver, and broccoli. These substances help in healthy tear production.
- Wearing contact lenses. Having artificial lenses placed internally on our eyes, dry eyes may be more common to people wearing contact lenses.
Complications linked with dry eyes include:
- Eye infections. Without tears, there is not enough protection in our eyes to prevent infection.
- Damage to the surface of your eyes. Severe dry eyes may lead to damaged lenses of our eyes. Tears are supposed to be a protective layer to avoid abrasions and inflammation on the corneal surface. If left untreated, severe dry eyes could lead to corneal ulcers and serious vision problems.
- Decreased quality of life. Dry eyes can make it very challenging to perform simple and daily activities, such as driving or reading.
To prevent future episodes of dry eyes, it is important to pay attention to triggers of dry eyes. It is best to manage the triggering factors to avoid severe complications. To further protect your eyes follow these simple guidelines:
- Avoid direct air in your eyes. Do not focus on hair blowers, car heaters, air conditioners, and fans anywhere near your eyes. This may dry out your eyes.
- Add moisture to the air. Especially in winter, medical experts advocate using a humidifier to add moisture to dry indoor air.
- Take breaks throughout the day. Avoid straining your eyes too much. Take periodic eye break throughout the day to give a chance for your eyes to rest. Close your eyes or blink repeatedly for a few seconds to help spread your tears evenly on your eyes
- Avoid opening your eyes too widely. If you are working with your computer above eye level, changing its position can help lessen dry eyes. Having your computer screen on eye level keeps you from opening your eyes wider to view the screen which exposes your eyes to tear evaporation. Doing this may help slow the evaporation of your tears between eye blinks.
- Avoid smoking. Even if you do not smoke tobacco, you should avoid any kind of smoke generally to prevent dry eyes. Stay away from people and places with too much smoke which can worsen dry eye symptoms.
- Use artificial tears regularly. If you are suffering from chronic dry eyes, using eye drops even when your eyes feel fine help keep them well-lubricated.
When to consult a doctor
Visit your doctor as soon as possible if you encounter prolonged signs and symptoms of dry eyes. These may include red, tired, irritated, stingy, and painful eyes. Your doctor can prescribe the right steps to treat any eye discomfort you may be feeling.