What Is Dry Eye?
Dry eye is a condition in which your eyes either don’t produce enough tears or produce poor quality tears that aren’t sufficient for properly lubricating the eyes. Over time, this lack of lubrication can lead to discomfort, damage to the front surface of the eye, and poor vision.
Dry eye is a common condition and can often become a chronic problem — especially for older adults. You’re at a higher risk of experiencing dry eye if you wear contact lenses or suffer from seasonal allergies.
Dry Eye Symptoms
Common dry eye symptoms include the following:
- Constant redness or irritation
- Stinging or burning sensations
- A feeling of sand or grit in your eye
- Mucus strings in, or around, your eye
- Pain when wearing contact lenses
- A constant overproduction of tears (i.e., your eyes are “crying” frequently)
Causes of Dry Eye
The cause of dry eye varies from person to person, and can include the following:
- Meibomian Gland Dysfunction (MGD) – Meibomian glands are oil glands in the upper and lower eyelids. These glands produce the oil layer of your tears, which is integral to reducing tear evaporation and keeping your eyes moist. MGD is a condition in which the Meibomian glands are blocked, or otherwise do not produce enough oil, and is considered the leading cause of dry eye disease.
- Age – As you age, hormonal changes can affect tear production, leading to dry eye. In fact, most people over the age of 65 experience dry eye symptoms.
- Gender – Dry eye is more prevalent among women due to hormonal fluctuations associated with pregnancy, use of oral contraceptives, or menopause.
- Medications – Blood pressure medications, antihistamines, decongestants, and antidepressants are some of the most common types of medications linked to dry eye, so it’s crucial that you inform your eye doctor of all the medications you currently take.
- Diseases –You’re at an increased risk for developing dry eye if you have diabetes, autoimmune diseases, or thyroid disease.
- Eye Conditions – Dry eye can accompany ocular conditions such as blepharitis, entropion, and ectropion.
- Environmental Factors – Wind, smoke, dry climate, or a low-humidity indoor environment can contribute to dry eye.
- Electronic Devices – Activities that reduce the frequency with which you blink (for example, staring at a computer screen or smartphone) can have a drying effect on your eyes.
- LASIK Surgery and Contacts – Undergoing LASIK or other refractive surgeries or wearing contacts for an extended period can sometimes lead to dry eye.
Diagnosis of Dry Eye
Dry eye is diagnosed through a comprehensive eye exam that may include the following:
- A detailed patient history to uncover any underlying health issues, medications, environmental factors, or personal practices that may be contributing to dry eye
- An examination of your eyelids and the surface of your eye
- Observation of your blinking pattern
- Evaluation of the quantity and quality of the tears you produce
Treatment of Dry Eye
Based on the dry eye diagnosis determined by your physician, there are several different options for treating dry eye syndromes:
- Artificial Tears – Designed to mimic your natural tears, you can purchase artificial tear products without a prescription and you can use them as often as needed to relieve dry eye symptoms. Preservative-free artificial tears are available and recommended if you’re sensitive to preservatives or if you use artificial tears frequently during the day.
- Punctal Plugs – You insert these removable silicone or collagen plugs into your tear ducts to conserve your tears by preventing them from draining out of your eye. However, your physician may instead recommend surgery that permanently closes your tear ducts.
- Prescription Eye Drops – Your physician may prescribe a special type of eye drop that increases tear production.
In addition to these treatments, physicians at the Dean McGee Eye Institute have advanced treatment options available to treat MGD, the leading cause of dry eye disease, and provide long-term relief:
Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) Dry Eye Treatment – This procedure is available at DMEI’s Northwest Oklahoma City office and uses pulses of light to clear the Meibomian glands and improve the flow of oil. Call 405.271.9500 to schedule an appointment.
LipiFlow® – This procedure is available at DMEI’s Oklahoma Health Center location and warms and massages the inside of the eyelids to restore Meibomian gland oil production. Call 405.271.1091 to schedule an appointment.