Question: What causes dry eyes?
Answer: Dry eye is a condition in which there are insufficient tears to lubricate and nourish the eye.
Tears are necessary for maintaining the health of the front surface of the eye and for providing clear vision.
People with dry eyes either do not produce enough tears or have a poor quality of tears.
People with dry eyes may experience symptoms of irritated, gritty, scratchy, or burning eyes, a feeling of something in their eyes, excess watering and blurred vision.
Advanced dry eyes may damage the front surface of the eye and impair vision.
With each blink of the eyelids, tears are spread across the front surface of the eye, known as the cornea. Tears provide lubrication, reduce the risk of eye infection, wash away foreign matter in the eye and keep the surface of the eyes smooth and clear. Excess tears in the eyes flow into small drainage ducts, in the inner corners of the eyelids, which drain in the back of the nose.
Dry eyes can result from an improper balance of tear production and drainage.
Tears are produced by several glands in and around the eyelids. Tear production tends to diminish with age, with various medical conditions, or as a side effect of certain medicines. Environmental conditions such as wind and dry climates can also affect tear volume by increasing tear evaporation. When the normal amount of tear production decreases or tears evaporate too quickly from the eyes, symptoms of dry eye can develop.
Tears are made up of three layers: oil, water, and mucus. Each component serves a function in protecting and nourishing the front surface of the eye. A smooth oil layer helps to prevent evaporation of the water layer, while the mucin layer functions in spreading the tears evenly over the surface of the eye. If the tears evaporate too quickly or do not spread evenly over the cornea due to deficiencies with any of the three tear layers, dry-eye symptoms can develop.
The development of dry eyes can have many causes. They include age, gender, medications, medical conditions, environmental conditions, and long-term use of contact lenses can be a factor in the development of dry eyes. Refractive eye surgeries, such as LASIK, can cause decreased tear production and dry eyes.
Dry eyes can be diagnosed with a comprehensive medical eye exam. Using the information obtained from testing, your optometrist can determine if you have dry eyes and advise you on treatment options.
Dry eyes can be a chronic condition, but an optometrist can prescribe treatment to keep your eyes healthy, more comfortable and prevent your vision from being affected.
The primary approaches used to manage and treat dry eyes include adding tears, conserving tears, increasing tear production and treating the inflammation of the eyelids or eye surface that contributes to the dry eyes.