If you are suffering from dry eyes, a common but very uncomfortable condition, you’ll be keen to know how to alleviate your symptoms and rid yourself of the problem for good. Read on to find out some simple steps you can take yourself that could help, and learn more about dry eyes treatments.
Why do I have dry eyes?
Before the problem can be solved, it is useful to know what is causing your discomfort.
If you have dry eye syndrome, your tear glands and eyelid oily (Meibomian) glands are not able to lubricate your eyes effectively. You are likely to be experiencing some of the following symptoms:
- Itchy eyes
- Sore or gritty eyes
- Sensitivity to bright lights
- Weeping eyes
Properly functioning tear and oily glands are a vital part of a normal, healthy eye. Tear glands are situated in the upper outer eye socket and produce tears. The tears they produce are a mix of water, minerals and defence proteins that keep your eyes comfortable, lubricated and protected. Added to this is mucoid to let the tears adhere to the eye, and oil to reduce evaporation and allow the lids to slide over the eye without friction. Tears flow from the tear glands, over the eye, and drain away into the tear ducts located in the inner corners of the eyes.
Tear glands frequently produce tiny quantities of tears that provide continuous lubrication to the eye. These tears keep the eyes clear of dust and feeling comfortable. Larger quantities of tears are produced when the eye is irritated by substances (i.e., onions can cause eyes to stream) or foreign bodies/dust, or because of strong emotions that cause a person to cry. This overproduction comes from the eyelids, and results in the variable puffiness following such irritation or emotional events.
Surprisingly, you may also have very watery eyes with dry eye syndrome. This condition can happen when the eye overstimulates production of the watery element of tears in an attempt to reduce the friction, yet it flushes away the best tears, making it worse. Even though your eyes are producing tears, these tears may not be oily enough to provide lubrication, if the Meibomian glands are dysfunctional.
How can the problem of dry eyes be solved?
The first step is to ask an ophthalmologist to determine the cause of your dry eyes. Here are some of the possibilities:
- A build-up of debris in the eye causing irritation and blockage of Meibomian glands
- Living or working in very dry air or in temperature-controlled environments (air-conditioned or centrally heated)
- Frequently experiencing windy, smoky, dusty or polluted environments
- Using screens for long periods of time, and not blinking enough
- Wearing contact lenses for long hours
- A more mature age (tear production declines greatly as we reach old age)
- Side effects of medication for various health conditions
- Pregnancy or menopause
- Diabetes or thyroid abnormalities
Once your ophthalmologist has examined your eyes and identified a probable cause, they can advise you on steps you can take yourself to help the situation. These may include:
- Wearing eye protection to prevent wind, dust or other environmental factors troubling your eyes
- Lessening screen time or taking more regular breaks from it
- Optimizing the humidity levels in your home or work environment
- Practicing excellent eye hygiene and always removing eye makeup before sleeping
These steps may be enough to solve your dry eye problem. In other cases, you may need further treatment for dry eyes.
There are several treatment options that will make a significant difference to your symptoms.
- Eye hygiene treatments
Your ophthalmologist may identify a build-up of debris which is causing your dry eyes. Build-ups can cause meibomian gland dysfunction and blepharitis, andcause dry eye symptoms.
Meibomian gland dysfunction is when oil glands in the upper and lower eyelids become clogged, and degrades the quality of the Meibomian oil. This causes a lack of oil in the tears and stops your eyes from being correctly lubricated. The blockage of the oily glands can also cause eyelids to become inflamed (blepharitis) due to friction.
With these conditions, the patient suffers from much discomfort. Ophthalmologists will remove the debris causing the blockage, and unblock the Meibomian glands to allow normal oil flow. Meibomian oil glands should function normally again. A patient prone to these conditions needs to adopt a good hygiene routine to lessen the chances of repeat problems.
- Artificial tears
Artificial tear eye drops replace real tears by providing immediate lubrication and relief from discomfort and itchiness. However, they are not a perfect solution. Not only is it tiresome and impractical to regularly administer eye drops, but these artificial tears also wash away your eye’s natural protection from infection.
Thus, they should be used as a short-term or occasional treatment. The better option is Lubricant eye drops containing lubricant and fluid retention substances which add quality to the deficient natural tears. Thicker oily cream lubricants help for overnight use, as well as in daytime for severe dry eyes.
- Punctal occlusion
Occasionally, a patient may benefit from a permanent or semi-permanent solution. Punctal plugs are tiny silicone plugs that can temporarily close the tear ducts. They stop tears from draining out of the eye quite so quickly. This allows natural tears to provide lubrication for longer before it evaporates, or seeps out via the upper lid’s ducts.
The plug is inserted by an ophthalmologist in a quick and simple procedure known as punctal occlusion.
Why you should seek help for dry eyes immediately
Dry eyes are irritating and uncomfortable, and impair vision quality significantly. For this reason alone, you should seek help so that vision and everyday life can become more pleasant and manageable. However, you should also know that persistently dry eyes can cause long-term damage and scarring if left untreated. Always seek help from an eye doctor if dry eyes are causing you problems.
In some cases, your ophthalmologist may also advise you to see your medical doctor because of occasional links between dry eyes and systemic conditions such as lupus, or other medical conditions that may have gone undiagnosed.
Be reassured that dry eyes are usually very treatable and that relief from symptoms can be found by visiting your eye doctor.