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Dry Eye Symptoms, Causes And Treatment

Dry eye complaints are heard pretty much every day in an optometrist’s office in a city as dry and windy as Amarillo, Texas! Understanding the symptoms of dry eye syndrome, the underlying causes and the treatment options are key to finding relief that doesn’t require a constant drip of eye solution into your eyes.  This article provides insights and information into each of these areas, however, the best choice is to contact your local Amarillo eye doctor to ensure your eye problems are correctly diagnosed and treated.

Symptoms of Dry Eye Syndrome

The most common symptoms of dry eyes include the obvious dryness of the eyes as well as a burning sensation.  Other common symptoms include a gritty, scratchy sensation as if a foreign body is in your eye and in some cases watery eyes.  You might even feel pain as if a needle poked you in the eye.  Blurry vision that seems to clear upon blinking and intolerance to your contact lenses or reduced contact lens wearing time without discomfort are also common symptoms of Dry Eye Syndrome.

Our tears are critical to clear vision

Most people think our tears are just salty water. Think about what water usually does on a smooth surface…it just beads up. Our tears are the perfect combination of ingredients to smoothly cover the cornea, the front surface of the eye. This smooths out imperfections so light rays can sharply penetrate the cornea, allowing us to have crisp, clear vision. Tears are composed of three layers with each layer playing a critical role in allowing us to see clearly.

The Mucin layer. The layer closest to the cornea. This layer provides a smooth surface for the middle aqueous layer.
The Aqueous layer. The water layer in the middle.
The Lipid layer. The outermost layer made of oil. This layer keeps the aqueous layer from evaporating. Oil is produced by the meibomian glands which line our upper and lower eyelids.

These 3 layers must be in perfect balance for optimum performance and vision. Additionally, the tears must have the perfect osmolarity (or saltiness) and pH. When any of these variables are out of line, trouble starts!

Causes of Dry Eye

There are many contributing factors to dry eyes.  These factors range from the environment in which we live, work and play to the medications we take for various health issues.

Environment. A dry, windy climate causes dry eyes. Even humid environments can have a high number of dry eye patients due to climate controlled environments to combat the humidity, such as air conditioning and heating.
Age. Dry eye becomes more common as we age. This is likely due to a number of things, including medications, health conditions, dehydration, malabsorption and poor nutrition.
Hormonal changes. Pregnancy and menopause often cause drier eyes.
Medications. NUMEROUS medications dry the eyes: birth control and antihistamines are the most problematic, but most medications cause some degree of dry eyes.
Health conditions. Sjogren’s syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid dysfunction are among the many health conditions known to cause dry eyes.
Computer syndrome. Long hours in front of a computer cause a reduction in blink rate. This is combined with environmental dryness in most cases.

Treatment of Dry Eye

Treatment of dry eye syndrome is targeted at the cause of dryness. Eye Drops are usually helpful to relieve symptoms. Inflammation is believed to be a component of dry eyes, so eye drop therapy may be targeted at reducing inflammation. Steroid or cyclosporine (Restasis) eye drops may be prescribed. Reducing environmental causes of dry eye is recommended. Using a humidifier, turning off ceiling fans, even sleeping with an eye mask or swim goggles may be suggested. The use of omega fatty acids, fish oil or flaxseed oil helps many patients with dry eyes. Also, increasing water intake is important. Often, just drinking more water and taking omega fatty acids will improve many dry eye symptoms. If our meibomian glands are clogged, the oil layer of our tears may be insufficient, allowing for rapid evaporation. In this case, therapy is targeted at unclogging the meibomian glands for better oil production. Sometimes punctal plugs may be helpful to slow the drainage of tears, but due to the belief that faulty tears cause inflammation, this therapy is now used less often. If the eyes are so dry that they have become painful, a bandage contact lens may provide relief and be a temporary barrier to environmental drying.

Finally, remember the “20” rule: For every 20 minutes reading or working on a computer, take a 20 second break, look out a window or down a hallway at objects at least 20 feet away, and blink 20 times.

Dry Eye Experts in Amarillo, Texas

Dr. Andrew Alpar and Dr. Candace Lipshy, the optometrists at St. Luke Eye Institute in Amarillo, TX, are dry eye experts. They have spent many hours in lectures about new treatments for dry eyes. They have also participated in several FDA drug trials to develop new medications to treat dry eyes. If you have dry eyes, call St. Luke Eye Institute today and schedule an eye exam with one of our eye doctors. We will determine the cause of your dry eyes and prescribe an effective treatment regimen tailored specifically to your needs.

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