Dry eye syndrome is one of the most common reasons for visits to an eye doctor.
It is an extremely common condition that occurs when the quantity and/or quality of tears fails to keep the surface of the eye adequately moistened. Tears provide lubrication to reduce the risk of eye infection, wash away foreign matter in the eye, and keep the surface of the eyes smooth and clear.
Dry eye affects millions of adults in the United States, with the risk of developing it increasing with age and by gender (women have a higher rate of dry eye than men).
The results of dry eye can range from constant eye irritation to significant inflammation and even scarring. Advanced dry eyes may permanently damage the front surface of the eye and impair vision, and can affect the outcomes of LASIK and cataract surgery.
Symptoms of dry eye often include:
Dry eyes can develop for many reasons, including:
There are two basic types of dry eye:
Healthy eyes need both watery tears, which keep eyes or contact lenses moist, and an oil component, which provides a barrier between the watery tears and the air of the environment. If there’s not enough oil in the tear mix, the tear quality is diminished and the watery tears evaporate.
In this more common type of dry eye, the oil glands along both the upper and lower eyelids aren’t providing enough oil in the tear mix. Under magnification during the clinical examination, your eye doctor will see plugs in the gland openings.
Dry eye can be effectively diagnosed through a comprehensive eye exam, which may include:
With the information obtained from testing, your eye doctor can determine if you have dry eyes and advise you on treatment options. Dry eyes can be a chronic condition, but your optometrist can prescribe treatment to keep your eyes healthy and comfortable and to prevent your vision from being affected.
Treatment for dry eyes aims to restore or maintain the normal amount of tears in the eye to minimize discomfort and maintain eye health.
Primary approaches used to manage and treat dry eyes might include prescription eye drops or ointments, warm compresses and lid massage, or eyelid cleaners to help decrease inflammation around the surface of the eyes.
While many people think they need eye drops to keep their eyes moist, drops only provide temporary relief. Drops don’t solve the most common problem – which involves getting the oil glands opened up and functioning properly.
At Eye Associates, we find that effective treatment involves putting moist heat onto the eye. One component of our treatment plan involves using an eye mask that contains beads that pull moisture from the air and hold that moisture until you heat the mask in a microwave – heating it for 20 seconds and then wearing it for 5 minutes. That moist heat the mask exudes melts the plugs, opens the glands, and gets the oil flowing again.
This oil gland deficiency is a chronic issue, so using the mask is a long-term solution. It’s a simple, inexpensive and effective part of a therapeutic treatment plan.
You can also take the following simple steps at home to help reduce symptoms of dry eyes:
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NOTE: The information in this article should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your health care provider about your specific health needs.