It’s easy to take your eyes for granted or to be unaware of all that they do. If you have ever gotten dust in your eyes, you’re quick to realize just how vulnerable they are. Tears are a critical part of eye health. They keep our eyes lubricated and help get rid of any debris which may cause damage. For some, the production of tears may be limited, causing a condition called “dry eye.”
Dry eye may seem self-explanatory, but it actually refers to two types of conditions: when the eye does not produce enough tears, or the eye is not producing the right type of tears. When you blink, a film of tears is washed over the surface of your eye. What you may not have realized is that tears are made up of three layers: an oily surface layer, a watery middle layer and a layer of mucus underneath. The oily layer makes the surface of tears smooth and slows down evaporation. The watery layer composes most of what makes up a tear. This layer washes away any debris or particles from the eye. The mucus layer allows for even distribution and adhesion of the watery layer over the surface of the eye.
Common symptoms of dry eye include stinging or burning sensations, a scratchy feeling, excess mucus or pus around the eyes, irritated eyes brought on by wind or cigarette smoke, pain when using contact lenses or an increased amount of tears. It may strike you as odd that you could have dry eye even though you are producing excess amounts of tears. Remember the three layers of tears? The absence of any of those layers could result in your eye producing more tears as a way to compensate for a lack of one or more layers. There are numerous other causes of dry eye which may be related to certain medications or diseases. These causes can be discussed with your ophthalmologist.
Dry eye is commonly treated with eyedrops (sometimes called “artificial tears”) which may be purchased without a prescription. In some cases your ophthalmologist might prescribe medicated eyedrops to help promote natural tear production. Depending on the severity of your condition, your doctor may recommend blocking your tear ducts with plugs to allow the tears to remain in the eye for a longer period of time.
Schedule an appointment with your ophthalmologist to determine if you need treatment for dry eye. Routine eye exams play an important role in the health of your vision. Make eye checkups part of your yearly health plan!