Our tear layer, which is created each time we blink, is responsible for lubricating and nourishing our eye surface, and washing away unwanted debris. If our tear layer fails to do this, it results in dry eyes. This dryness can take two forms:
- Inadequate tear volume – where the tear quantity is too low to do its job. This is usually a result of lack of tear production or the tear layer evaporating too quickly.
- Inadequate tear quality – Where the balance of the tear layer components is off. This causes the tear layer to be too inconsistent to do its job correctly.
There is a range of symptoms we experience if our eyes are dry. Our eyes may feel sandy/gritty, have a foreign body sensation, burn before or after blinking, or be red and irritated. If our eyes tear too much, that can be in response to dryness. And our vision quality can be disrupted, inconsistent, or even poor depending on the severity of dryness. Dry eye can be caused by many factors, and may even be a combination of things like:
- Age – As we get older, our tear production can decrease as part of our natural aging process.
- Gender – Women experience more eye dryness due to hormonal changes.
- Medications – Many medicines cite dryness as a side effect.
- Medical Conditions – Many systemic diseases affect tear production
- Eye Lid Conditions – Eye lid margin disease or malformation affects normal eye lid function
- Environmental Factors – Outside or inside conditions, work environment and even vision demands, like computers, affect blink rate and tear quality.
Research and technology have improved our ability to diagnose and treat dry eyes. A thorough eye exam to evaluate ocular surface health can determine causes for dry eyes and tailor treatment to those more specific causes. These treatments can range from tear supplements targeting certain components of the tear layer, behavior modification to limit environmental effects, and diet and nutrients if that is lacking. Lastly, medication can be prescribed in more threatening situations. Your eye doctor can help with dry eye syndrome to improve both vision and comfort.