What Causes Dry Eyes and How to Treat Them

What Causes Dry Eyes and How to Treat Them

We regularly have patients tell us that they feel silly, making an appointment to inquire about dry eyes. They simply don’t feel it’s something that should warrant a visit to the eye doctor, and they often decide to suffer through the frustration.

That said, dry eye is a widespread condition that can substantially impact your life. There is, of course, the outward problem of having red or irritated eyes, making you look like you’re chronically sleep-deprived. However, more critically, prolonged dry eye can actually cause pain, light sensitivity, and in extreme cases, be a warning for an autoimmune disorder. So while some mild dryness may be something you can wait to mention during your next regular eye exam, any prolonged irritation probably warrants making an appointment. 

In this article, we’re going to look at the basics of healthy ocular lubrication, examen some of the causes of dry eye, and walkthrough potential treatment options. 

Understanding the Ocular Lubrication

Your eyes are designed to be continuously bathed in a thin layer of tears. This solution of water, oils, mucus, and antibodies helps to keep your eyes clean, removes debris, and prevents infection. It’s a critical part of a healthy vision system that most people take for granted until something is not working correctly.    

When it comes to dry eyes, the breakdown usually happens in one of two ways. Either your eyes stop producing enough tears to adequately do the job, or the tears are of too low a quality to be effective. 

Ultimately though, no matter how it occurs, the result is the same. And, left untreated can range from constant irritation to creating real problems with your vision.

Causes of and Treatments for Dry Eye

Dry eye is a condition that can be brought on by a wide range of causes. The symptoms can range from short-term to intermittent, or even quite prolonged, very often related to the initial cause. Before prescribing a treatment, your eye doctor will want to understand what precisely is causing the problem.   

These are some of the most common causes of dry eye syndrome and how to address them.  

Getting Older

As we age, our bodies lose their ability to perform at their best. The same is true when it comes to our eyes. After the age of fifty, tear production begins to gradually decline. 

Treatment Options: While there is no way to reverse the effects of ageing, the regular application of artificial tears can provide considerable relief. 

Screen Time

One of the side effects of modern life is that many of us are spending countless hours in close proximity to a computer screen. And, when we’re not doing that, we are on our smartphones, tablets, or watching television. 

What tends to happen is that while we’re engaged with our devices, the rate at which we blink slows down. This is especially true when we are doing focused work on our computers. The trouble is that regular blinking serves to lubricate the eyes and keep them comfortable. By reducing our blink rate, we have fewer instances to redistribute tears across the cornea surface.

Treatment: The best option is to considerably reduce the amount of screentime we engage in daily. However, for most office workers, there is no way to lessen their computer usage. To help with this, you will want to take short breaks at regular intervals. Even by simply looking away from the screen every twenty minutes and blinking repeatedly, you can lower the impact. Occasionally, using artificial tears to help lubricate your eyes can be a significant relief if the problem persists. 

A Steady Breeze and a Cold Climate

Merely living in a cooler climate means that most of the year, humidity levels are quite low. Pair that with consistent wind, and you will notice your tears evaporating quickly from the surface of your eye. This instance of dry eye tends to be most prevalent with outdoor workers. However, indoor heating systems can have a similar effect. 

Treatment: When you’re outside, be sure to wear sunglasses that wrap to shield your eyes from the breeze. If you don’t wear eyeglasses, you may want to consider a pair of non-prescription frames to wear in the evenings when venturing out. If you’re working in an office that’s too dry, consider purchasing a humidifier for your desk. And in both cases, if the problem continues, having eyedrops ready for occasional use is a great solution.  

Vitamin A Deficiency

When this critical vitamin is deficient, it will generally impede the eye’s ability to function and lubricate correctly. The good news is that if Vitamin A deficiency is suspected, a simple blood test can confirm or rule it out.

Treatment: While supplementation is possible, vitamin A is most commonly ingested in carrots, eggs, fish, spinach, broccoli, and peppers. Increasing these food items in your diet can help get you back on track.

Allergy Medication

When the spring gets underway, many allergy sufferers head for the antihistamines to keep their symptoms under control. Of course, these drugs work by blocking the body’s histamine response and reducing the mucus available. And, as we discussed above, mucus is a fundamental building block in creation lubricating tears. 

Treatment: While going without the medication may not be a good option, talk to your pharmacist to see if there is an alternative formulation that may be easier on your eyes. You may also want to consider artificial tears to have ready to counteract the effects of the antihistamine.

Prescription Meds

While we are talking about the effects of drugs and how they impede our eyes’ natural ability to lubricate, it’s worth mentioning that many medications can have drying side effects. Several antidepressants, diuretics, and beta-blockers have been known to have great success with a primary condition only to leave the patient suffering from Dry Eye symptoms.

Treatment: If you suspect your medication may be to blame for your dry eye, be sure to advise your Optometrist. They can determine if the drugs you are on have the potential to cause problems with your eyes. Then, working with your physician, they can make a recommendation to help alleviate the problem. This could include your doctor altering your meds or using specially formulated eye drops to relieve symptoms. Never make adjustments to your medications without speaking to your doctor first.

Hormones

Studies have repeatedly shown that women tend to suffer from dry eyes in more significant numbers than men. Much of the blame goes to the hormones created during pregnancy, menopause, or while taking a birth control pill. Tears being stimulated by hormones are sensitive to anything that alters the balance. 

Treatment: Hormone therapy has shown to be ineffective in combating dry eye symptoms brought about by hormones. If you’re on birth control and the symptoms are causing you distress, your primary care physician may be able to offer an alternative product. Your Optometrist can also provide you with eye drops to assist you with the condition.

Laser Surgery

When patients undergo cataract or laser surgery, the first thing they usually notice is a profound improvement in their vision. However, as a result of the incision in the nerves surrounding the cornea, the eyes tend to produce fewer tears. Many patients initially report increased incidents of dry eye.

Treatment: The good news is that this condition is usually temporary. As the eyes heal, they begin to return to their normal level of functionality. Your Optometrist or eye surgeon can prescribe drops to help keep your eyes lubricated until they are back to normal.

Autoimmune Disorders

One of the more troubling causes of dry eye syndrome is autoimmune diseases. The most prevalent being Sjögren’s syndrome. This disorder causes white blood cells to attack your salivary and tear glands, reducing overall tear production. Of course, diseases like arthritis, lupus, and diabetes can also lead to dry eye. 

Treatment: When it comes to Sjögren’s syndrome, your doctor will likely begin with prescription drops, often with a steroid. However, if this method fails, the next option is usually surgery to implant silicone plugs into your tear ducts to get the waterworks flowing again. With other autoimmune disorders, immunosuppressant drugs or a corticosteroid may be required. Your Optometrist and primary care physician will work together to help you manage this condition.

Blepharitis

This condition usually develops when the small oil glands on your inner eyelid become obstructed and inflamed. Often it’s noticeable by the greasy flakes that build up around your eyelashes. 

Treatment: Unfortunately, there’s no permanent cure for this condition. But the inflammation can be reduced by applying a warm compress over your eyes. Your Optometrist may also recommend washing your eyelids with baby shampoo and using artificial tears to lessen the symptoms. If the problems continue to worsen, your eye doctor will provide you with an antibiotic steroid to help get you back to normal.

Contact lenses

While today’s breathable contacts don’t usually cause much of an issue, there’s still a potential for them to lead to a minor case of dry eyes. Often this occurs when patients wear their contacts from morning to night, day in and day out. 

Treatment: First, ask your Optometrist if there is a lense variety that may allow more oxygen to get to the surface of your eye. You may also want to reduce the number of hours that you wear your contacts. One option is to wear your lenses throughout the workday and then switch to glasses when you get home to give your eyes a break.

Dehydration

Sometimes dry eye symptoms are caused simply by your body being dehydrated. If you notice other symptoms, such as dark urine or lack of urination, feelings of low energy, dizziness, or a rapid heartbeat, you may not be getting sufficient fluids.

TreatmentIncrease your daily water intake. An excellent solution for this is to purchase a clearly marked water bottle to keep on your desk. This way, you can tell at a glance if you’re falling behind with your H2o. 

Always make note

Dry eye symptoms can be the result of minor issues such as mild dehydration right through to indicators of an autoimmune disease. For this reason, even if the irritation is insignificant, make a note of the symptoms, the date, and how long they persisted. This way, you can advise your Optometrist at your next appointment. If, however, the symptoms worsen, don’t hesitate to make an appointment. Diagnosing problems early is the best way to ensure that you maintain brilliant eyesight throughout your life.