Dry Eyes Syndrome
What is dry eye?
Dry eyes syndrome is a common condition that occurs when your eyes do not make enough tears, the tears evaporate too quickly, or they produce poor-quality tears that can’t lubricate your eye properly. Ultimately, this can lead to inflammation, pain and possible damage to the eye’s surface.
Having dry eyes is uncomfortable, with your eyes experiencing a burning or stinging sensation. There are various dry eye causes and they can happen for a variety of reasons. In many cases, it can be caused by multiple factors occurring at the same time. Once diagnosed, there are various ways to manage the condition.
When it comes to dry eyes syndrome, causes and treatment options vary depending on the severity and your particular health needs. If you experience prolonged dry eye symptoms, it’s important to speak to your doctor.
There are many different dry eye causes. The most common causes include:
Decreased tear production
Having decreased tear production (also known as ‘tear film insufficiency’) often occurs because your body is unable to produce enough water to create high-quality tears. There are many reasons why you might have decreased tear production, with common causes being ageing, auto-immune disorders (e.g. Sjogren’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus), some medications (e.g. antihistamines, antidepressants, birth control, and drugs to manage high-blood pressure).
When trying to determine the reason you are experiencing dry eye symptoms, you will likely look inward to see if it’s an issue with your own body. There are a number of physiological reasons why you have decreased tear production, and these may include:
- Health status: Health conditions such as diabetes can impact your vision.
- Gland obstruction: People whose meibomian gland is blocked have a dysfunction that causes the watery layer of tears to dry out. The blockage means that the oily part of your tears is unable to be released.
- Commonly used drugs: Such as antihistamines, beta blockers and diuretics may all lead to uncomfortable side effects such as dry eyes.
Various auto-immune disorders can cause you to develop additional health issues, including dry eyes.
- Rheumatoid arthritis: This common illness is most commonly associated with joint inflammation, swelling and pain. If left untreated, the damage can be permanent. However it may also cause dry eye symptoms in some people.
- Lupus: While lupus tends to mostly affect the joints, lungs, nerves, blood cells and kidneys, it may also be responsible for dry eye syndrome.
- Sjogren’s disease: This immune system disorder is often a by-product of other common auto-immune issues, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Sjogren’s disease’s two most common symptoms are dry eyes and a dry mouth.
In contrast to decreased tear production, evaporative loss (also referred to as ‘evaporative dry eye diseases’) causing dry eyes is often the result of your meibomian glands being dysfunctional. These glands produce a film of oil at the edge of your eyelids, which ensures your tears are of a high enough quality to continually lubricate your eyes. In meibomian gland dysfunction, there is an obstruction of the duct and/or a change in the quality or quantity of the gland secretion. Eventually, this abnormality can lead to evaporative dry eye. A low blink rate can also cause evaporative loss. Your body might simply run at a different speed to others, with a low blink rate meaning your eyes aren’t lubricated enough to stave off dry eyes. The normal spontaneous blink rate is between 12 and 15 times per minute.
In addition to physiologically occurring causes of dry eyes, there are also environmental factors that might cause you to be more susceptible to dry eye syndrome. These can include:
- Computer use: Research has shown that when you use a computer and other display devices, especially for extended periods, it reduces the number of eye blinks you usually make. This often results in evaporative loss leading to dry eyes.
- Topical drugs and preservatives: Some eye drops contain preservatives and other additives that may irritate the eyes.
Symptoms of dry eye
Some of the most common dry eye symptoms include:
- Feeling of a foreign body in the eye
- Blurry vision
- Excessive tearing or watery eyes
- Difficulty tolerating activities that require sustained visual concentration e.g. reading, working on the computer
- Uncomfortable contact lenses
- Tired eyes
Feeling of a foreign body in the eye
Because eye lubrication may be poor, it can often feel like there’s a foreign body or other eye irritant stuck in your eye. For example, you may think there’s a speck of dirt or dust caught on your eye, and as you try to clear it by rubbing your eye you may ultimately make your symptoms worse.
If you have dry eyes, one of the most frequent symptoms you may experience will be a burning or stinging sensation.
Having blurry vision doesn’t necessarily mean you have dry eye syndrome. However, dry eyes can sometimes result in you having blurry vision
Excessive tearing or watery eyes
It might sound counterintuitive, but dry eye syndrome can indeed cause excessive tearing or watery eyes. This is because dry eyes are often the result of poor-quality tears. When your eyes aren’t getting the quality lubrication they need, it causes your body to produce excess tears, which rather than fixing your dry eyes it simply makes the problem worse.
Difficulty sustaining visual concentration
When you are seriously concentrating on something like a book, staring at a computer or other digital screen, or even daydreaming and not paying attention, you often experience reduced blink rates. This, in turn, can dry out your eyes as you are not blinking enough to lubricate your eyes.
Uncomfortable contact lenses
It should be noted that wearing contact lenses can exacerbate the symptoms of dry eyes given that dry eyes are the most commonly reported symptom of contact lens discomfort.
If you have eye fatigue, this can be a symptom of dry eyes. Furthermore, it is possible that dry eye syndrome is associated with the risk of developing chronic fatigue syndrome.
Treatments for dry eyes
Dry eye treatment can come in a variety of products and treatments. Treatment will depend on the type and severity of your dry eye syndrome. If you have dry eye syndrome, it’s recommended to seek medical help to discuss suitable treatment. Treatments can include:
- Self-help exercises and environmental adjustments (e.g. blink exercises, drinking more water)
- Eye lubricants, ointments or gels
- Improving eyelid hygiene
For the following treatments, always consult your eye care practitioner for further advice:
Self-help exercises and environmental adjustments
You can take matters into your own hands with dry eye syndrome by being conscious of how you go about your day to day life. That might involve avoiding places with lots of air movement, using a humidifier, steering clear of cigarette smoke, or placing a warm washer over your eyes.
Eye lubricants, ointments or gels
There’s a whole range of eye lubricants, ointments and gels on the market that may reduce the effects of dry eyes. They are designed to soothe your eyes and in some cases improve the quality of your tear production. Viscotears* gel, for example, is for the treatment of dry eyes and is commonly available in your local chemist.
Improving eyelid hygiene
Make sure you are taking good care of your eyes daily. Everything from makeup to outdoor pollutants can impact your eyes and tear quality if not washed and removed before you go to bed. Make it a habit to wash your face, including around your eyes, every night.
If your pain is persistent and your specialist advises that medication may improve your symptoms, then antibiotics may be prescribed. While antibiotics can often provide the dry eye relief you’ve been searching for, make sure you always consult with your eye care practitioner for the right treatment and further advice.
These are dedicated medical devices created for the treatment of dry eye syndrome. This procedure is done by a healthcare professional. Punctal plugs sit in your tear ducts and ‘catch’ the liquid. This stops tears from draining away and helps improve eye lubrication.
Depending on the severity of your condition, your doctor or pharmacist may recommend antiinflammatory medication for dry eyes.
While most instances of dry eye don’t require surgical intervention, your doctor may recommend surgery if you are experiencing severe pain and discomfort due to dry eye syndrome.
Can watching TV cause dry eyes?
Yes, focusing on a screen – whether it’s a TV, computer, laptop or tablet device – can cause dry eyes because it affects how often you blink.
Can having dry eyes affect your vision?
Some people with dry eyes do struggle with their sight, with blurry vision being one of the side effects.
Can cosmetic eye cream cause dry eyes?
If the eye cream contains preservatives and other additives, then it may irritate your eyes and result in dry eye symptoms.
Are eyelash extensions safe for dry eyes?
Yes, although it is recommended that you have your dry eye symptoms treated first so that the eyelash extension procedure doesn’t further irritate your eyes.
Are air humidifiers good for dry eyes?
If you find that you are waking up every morning with dry eyes, using a humidifier in your bedroom overnight may help to relieve symptoms. This is because low humidity can cause your tears to evaporate too fast.