Dry Eye Syndrome is one of the most common problems treated by eye care professionals. More than 10 million Americans suffer from dry eyes. The condition is usually caused by a problem with the quality of the tear film that lubricates the eyes.
Tears are comprised of three layers. The mucus layer coats the cornea, the eye's clear outer window, forming a foundation so the tear film can adhere to the eye. The middle aqueous layer provides moisture and supplies oxygen and other important nutrients to the cornea. This layer is 98% water, along with small amounts of salt, proteins and other compounds. The outer lipid layer is an oily film that seals the tear film on the eye and helps to prevent evaporation.
Tears are formed in several glands around the eye. The water layer is produced in the lacrimal gland, located under the upper eyelid. Several smaller glands in the lids make the oil and mucus layers. With each blink, the eyelids spread tears over the eye. Excess tears flow into two tiny drainage ducts in the corner of the eye by the nose. These ducts lead to tiny canals that connect to the nasal passage. The connection between the tear ducts and the nasal passage is the reason that crying causes a runny nose.
In addition to lubricating the eye, tears are also produced as a reflex response to outside stimulus such as injury or emotion. However, reflex tears do little to sooth a dry eye, which is why someone with watery eyes may still complain of irritation.
The normal aging process is the most common cause of Dry Eye Syndrome. As we grow older, our bodies produce less oil-60% less at age 65 than at age 18. This is more pronounced in women, who tend to have drier skin than men. Oil deficiency also affects the tear film. Without as much oil to seal the watery layer, the tear film evaporates much faster, leaving dry areas on the cornea.
Other factors, such as hot, dry or windy climates, high altitudes, air-conditioning and cigarette smoke also cause dry eyes. Many people also find their eyes become irritated when reading or working on a computer. Stopping periodically to rest and blink keeps the eyes more comfortable.
Contact lens wearers may also suffer from dryness because the contacts absorb the tear film, causing proteins to form on the surface of the lens. Certain medications, thyroid conditions, vitamin A deficiency, and diseases such as Parkinson's and Sjogren's can also cause dryness. Women frequently experience problems with dry eyes as they enter menopause because of hormonal changes.
When it comes to treating dry eyes, everyone's needs are a little different. Many find relief simply from using artificial tears on a regular basis. Some of these products are watery and alleviate the symptoms temporarily; others are thicker and adhere to the eye longer. Preservative-free tears are recommended because they are the most soothing and have fewer additives that could potentially irritate.
Closing the opening of the tear drain in the eyelid with special inserts called punctual plugs is another option. This works like closing a sink drain with a stopper. These special plugs trap the tears on the eye, keeping it moist. This may be done on a temporary basis with a dissolvable collagen plug or permanently with a silicone plug.
It is important to treat dry eyes both for comfort and to ensure the health of the cornea.
To schedule a vision examination with a physician, please contact us at (989)797-2400.
Andersen Eye Associates proudly serves the Greater Saginaw region including Flint, Frankenmuth, Bay City, Midland, Bridgeport, Bad Axe, Mount Pleasant, and surrounding areas.