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Dry Eye Syndrome and Treatment

What is Dry Eye Syndrome?

Dry Eye Syndrome is a very common, inconvenient and uncomfortable eye condition, characterized by a consistent lack of lubrication and moisture on the surface of the eye. Symptoms of dry eyes include stinging or burning of the eyes, scratchiness, and excessive irritation from smoke or wind. You may also notice that your eyes are exceedingly watery, as your eyes try, in vain, to produce enough tears to keep up with the rate of evaporation.

desert dry eyes

What Causes Dry Eye Syndrome?

Healthy eyes keep themselves lubricated and comfortable by producing tears at a slow and steady rate. In order to do their job, these tears must have three essential layers:

  • The outermost layer of the tear is oily, and its main purpose is to keep the tear from evaporating too quickly.
  • The middle layer of the tear is watery, and makes up the majority of each tear. This layer cleans the eye and helps to wash away small foreign objects and particles.
  • The core of each tear is a mucus that allows the watery middle layer to stick to the eye, spreading evenly over the surface of the eye in order to keep it lubricated.

In a person with dry eyes, hormonal changes, side effects from medication, exceedingly dry or windy environments or some other factor can causes the eye to either not produce enough tears, or leave out one or more of the parts of the tear, outlined above, that make proper lubrication possible.

Dry Eyes and Elderly Patients

senior couple in the snow

Most people over age 65 experience some symptoms of dry eyes. Although elderly people often have dryness of the eyes, dry eye can occur during any stage of life. Elderly people with allergies or diabetes who use medications, may face a higher risk of developing dry eye syndrome.

Treating Dry Eye Syndrome

Your optometrist may recommend artificial tears, which are lubricating eyedrops that may alleviate the dry, scratching feeling and foreign body sensation of dry eye. Prescription eye drops for dry eye go one step further: they help increase your tear production.

If you wear contact lenses, be aware that many artificial tears cannot be used during contact lens wear. You may need to remove your lenses before using the drops. Wait 15 minutes or longer (check the label) before reinserting them. For mild dry eye, contact lens rewetting drops may be sufficient to make your eyes feel better, but the effect is usually only temporary. Switching to another lens brand could also help.

Check the label, but better yet, check with your doctor before buying any over-the-counter eye drops. Your eye doctor will know which formulas are effective and long-lasting and which are not, as well as which eye drops will work with your contact lenses

To reduce the effects of sun, wind and dust on dry eyes, wear sunglasses when outdoors. Wraparound styles offer the best protection.

Indoors, an air cleaner can filter out dust and other particles from the air, while a humidifier adds moisture to air that’s too dry because of air conditioning or heating.

For more significant cases of dry eye, your eye doctor may recommend punctal plugs. These tiny devices are inserted in ducts in your lids to slow the drainage of tears away from your eyes, thereby keeping your eyes more moist.

Doctors sometimes recommend special nutritional supplements containing certain essential fatty acids to decrease dry eye symptoms. Drinking more water may also relieve symptoms

If medications are the cause of dry eyes, discontinuing the drug generally resolves the problem. But in this case, the benefits of the drug must be weighed against the side effect of dry eyes. Sometimes switching to a different type of medication alleviates the dry eye symptoms while keeping the needed treatment. In any case, never switch or discontinue your medications without consulting with your doctor first.

Treating any underlying eyelid disease, such as blepharitis, helps as well. This may call for antibiotic or steroid drops, plus frequent eyelid scrubs with an antibacterial shampoo.

To read more about the symptoms and causes of dry eyes, visit Your Eye Health.

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Q&A

Answers to Your Eye Care Questions

Q: Is it true that Dry Eye Symptoms seem to be more severe in the winter than in the warmer spring and summer months?

A: No – Dry Eye symptoms are prevalent all year round.

Read more on our FAQ page.