Health & Personal Care

Dry eyes – Symptoms, causes, and treatment

Dry eyes – Symptoms, causes, and treatment

The condition of dry eyes is characterized by the lack of sufficient lubrication for the eyes. Tears provide the necessary moisture and lubrication to the eyes, and the lack of tears can be caused by various factors. Dry eyes can also be caused by the production of tears that are of poor quality. This condition can cause discomfort symptoms, like a burning or stinging sensation in the eyes. Dry eyes can be experienced in various situations, like traveling on an airplane, sitting in an air-conditioned room, riding a bike, and long exposure to screens.

There are various symptoms caused by dry eyes, such as

  • Burning sensation in the eyes
  • Itching in the eyes
  • Ache
  • Feeling of heaviness in the eyes
  • Tired eyes
  • Soreness in the eyes
  • Dryness in the eyes
  • Redness
  • Blurriness in the vision
  • Photophobia or sensitivity of the eyes to light

In addition to the abovementioned symptoms, one may feel the presence of foreign material in one of the eyes. Surprisingly, in some cases, having watery eyes can also be a symptom of dry eyes. This happens when the extreme dryness in the eyes triggers a response in the form of excessive production of tears. But these tears do not stay in the eyes for long, which means they might not be enough to treat the condition.

In some cases, dry eyes can also lead to inflammation, which can cause damage to the eyes’ surface. The condition can also have an impact on the results of a cataract or a LASIK surgery.

Tears act as natural lubricators for the eyes. The moisture provided by the tears helps in providing necessary comfort to the eyes, which is needed for the eyes to function properly. So, how do tears provide this comfort? Well, tears are a mixture of

  • Water, which is important for moisture
  • Oils, which provides lubrication
  • Mucus, for the evenly spreading
  • Antibodies and some proteins, which are important to prevent infections

These ingredients are secreted from special glands that are located around the eyes. Therefore, when a person suffers from dry eyes, it means there is a fault in their tear system. Any imbalance in the flow of tears leads to dry eye. Also, several external factors contribute to dry eye syndrome. They include devices like air conditioners and heaters that make the tear film dry out. There are some other causes, including

  • Aging
    Anyone can be affected by dry eyes; however, the condition becomes more common as we age. There is a decline in the production of tears as the body ages. Thus, the condition can affect people who are above 50 years of age. When one suffers from dry eyes due to aging, it might be difficult to control. However, using artificial tears regularly can provide extra lubrication to the eyes and relieve the symptoms.
  • Medications
    Tears are made of water, oil, and mucus, but certain medications can interfere with the production of mucus and lead to dry eyes. These include antidepressants, antihistamines, diuretics, and beta-blockers with medication for hypertension. In case any medication is causing dry eyes, you must consult the doctor. You can ask for an alternative or talk about lowering the dosage to help you reduce the symptoms of dry eye. You can also use artificial tears along with the medication to make sure that your eyes stay lubricated all the time.
  • Prolonged exposure to screens
    Working on computers for long hours can cause headaches and severe strain on the eyes. Besides, looking at the computer screen constantly can impact the production of tears and cause dry eyes. This happens because staring at the screen incessantly tends to make you blink less frequently than normal. This is results in rapid evaporation of tears. To fight this problem, make sure that you blink more frequently while using a computer. This will give the necessary lubrication to your eyes and prevent irritation and dry eye. If the condition persists even after blinking frequently while using the computer, you should try using artificial tears. Also, make sure that you take breaks at regular intervals to give your eyes some rest. Every 20 minutes try to look away from the computer and blink continuously to moisten your eyes.
  • Laser surgery
    Experiencing dry eye symptoms after laser surgery for the eyes can happen in some cases. In a laser-correction procedure, some nerves in the cornea can be cut. This can lead to reduced production of tears in the eyes. However, when the condition is caused by laser surgery, its symptoms are temporary and go away in some time. Till the time the symptoms of dry eyes go away, you must keep lubricating the eyes by using eye drops.
  • Menopause
    Any disbalance in the hormone levels of the body can lead to dry eye. Therefore, some females who undergo menopause, are pregnant, or who use birth control pills can experience the symptoms related to this condition. Hormones have a role to play in tear production. Hence, any imbalance in the hormones can lower the production of tears in the eyes. Hormone replacement therapy might not help to relieve the symptoms of dry eye. However, you can consult your doctor and get eye drops to lubricate the eyes to fight irritation and dryness.
  • Vitamin A deficiency
    Vitamin A is important for maintaining good eye health. The natural supply of vitamin A can be given to the body through foods like carrots, broccoli, spinach, and peppers. When you follow a diet that does not contain vitamin-A-rich foods, it can lead to dry eyes and several other vision-related problems including night blindness. With the help of a blood test, a vitamin A deficiency can be diagnosed. After consulting your doctor, you can use eye drops that contain vitamin A. However, these drops might not be a commonly prescribed treatment for dry eyes.
  • Exposure to wind
    When your eyes are exposed to cold climatic conditions or high winds, it can lead to rapid tear evaporation. This can become a cause of chronic dryness in the eyes. If you are exposed to such climatic conditions, you must keep your eyes lubricated with eye drops and protect them by wearing sunglasses.
  • Sjögren’s syndrome
    This is a condition wherein the tear and salivary glands come under attack from white blood cells. This results in reduced tear production. The treatment for the condition includes prescription and some over-the-counter eye drops. In some cases, doctors can also recommend a steroid eye drop. If the condition does not get better with eye drops, the patient can be recommended a surgery. The procedure involves the insertion of silicone plugs in the tear ducts, which can help in preserving some tears.
  • Autoimmune diseases
    Diabetes, arthritis, lupus, and several other autoimmune disorders can lead to the inadequate production of tears. If dry eyes occur due to any of these autoimmune disorders, there will be several other symptoms of the condition, which one may experience. For instance, if a person suffers from arthritis, the symptoms will include pain in the joints, fever, and fatigue. Similarly, some early symptoms of diabetes will be unusual thirst and increased frequency of urination. Once the underlying condition is diagnosed and treated, the symptoms of dry eyes can also be addressed. Treating autoimmune disorders can include the use of corticosteroids and immunosuppressants. For diabetics, keeping the blood sugar levels under check with the help of a healthy lifestyle and eating habits will be necessary.
  • Allergies
    Sometimes, allergies can be the cause of dry eyes. The eyes can become red, itchy, and watery due to allergies. To reduce allergies, medication can be prescribed by the doctor. However, sometimes these medications can lead to worsening of the symptoms.
  • Dehydration
    At times, dry eyes can be caused by the lack of enough hydration in the body and not consuming sufficient fluids. Dehydration can be identified by several other symptoms such as low energy levels in the body, dark urine, fast heartbeat, dizziness, and not urinating frequently. Increasing your intake of water can relieve the symptoms of dehydration and dry eye.

Treatment options
Several dry eye treatment options are available once the condition is diagnosed. In most cases, when the symptoms are mild, the condition can be treated with over-the-counter eye drops or artificial tears. However, in cases where the symptoms are severe, some other dry eye treatment options will need to be considered. The treatment you take will depend on the underlying condition causing dry eyes.

Various treatment options aim at managing or reversing the effects of the underlying cause of dry eye. Some treatment alternatives also focus on improving the quality of tears or preventing the tears from draining away rapidly from the eyes.

When one is suffering from dry eyes due to an underlying condition, treating the disease can help in relieving the symptoms of dry eyes. In cases where dry eyes occur due to a medication, the doctor might prescribe an alternative that does not cause any side effects.

If a person suffers from a condition that affects the eyelids, they may be referred to an oculoplastic surgeon for surgery of the eyelids. If the underlying condition that is causing dry eyes is rheumatoid arthritis, the patient may be referred to a rheumatologist.

Medicines for treating dry eyes
Several medications can be prescribed for dry eye treatment, such as

  • Medication to fight eyelid inflammation
    When the edge of the eyelids become inflamed, this can prevent the oil glands from releasing oil into the tears. To fight the inflammation, antibiotics can be prescribed to the patient.
  • Eyedrops to fight inflammation of the cornea
    To combat inflammation that affects the cornea, eyedrops consisting of Restasis or corticosteroids can be prescribed. However, prolonged usage of corticosteroids might not be recommended since they can cause side-effects.
  • Inserts for artificial tears
    In cases where dry eyes cause severe symptoms, artificial tears might not help. Under such situations, a small insert that looks like a tiny rice grain can be prescribed. This insert will have to be placed between the eyeball and the lower eyelid once a day. The insert will gradually dissolve and secrete a substance, which will help in lubricating the eyes.

Other treatment options
In addition to medications, several procedures that can be used for dry eye treatment, such as

  • Reducing loss of tears by closing the ducts
    This procedure can be suggested by the doctor to prevent the tears from rapidly draining from the eyes. In the procedure, the tear ducts can be closed partially or entirely.
  • Contact lenses
    There are new contact lenses available in the market that are used for dry eye treatment. These lenses can be used by people who suffer from severe symptoms of dry eye. They help in fighting the symptoms by protecting the eyes’ surface and locking in the moisture. These lenses are known as bandage or scleral lenses.
  • Unclogging of the oil glands
    With the use of eye masks or warm compresses, the blockage in the oil glands can be cleared. Another option to unblock the glands is a thermal pulsation machine. However, the benefit of using such a device over hot compresses is yet to be clear.
  • Eyelid massage and light therapy
    A therapy known as intense pulsed light therapy is followed by eyelid massage has shown promising results in people who suffer from severe symptoms of dry eye.

Now that you have an idea about the dry eye treatment options, you can opt for any of the aforementioned ones depending on the severity of the condition.

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