Tears are an important part of our eye health and create a tear film which keeps eyes lubricated and nourished, as well as providing a clear window through the cornea for best vision. Tears are a complex mixture of fatty oils, mucus, and proteins that keep the surface of the eye smooth and protected from the environment, irritants, and infections. Sometimes our tear film is not sufficient enough, and dry eye occurs. Dry eye syndrome is common, especially in older adults, and affects millions of Americans.
Symptoms of dry eye include:
- Itchy, gritty, scratchy feeling
- Burning or stinging
- Excessive tearing
- Blurred vision
It sounds counterintuitive, but runny, watery, teary eyes can be a symptom of dry eye syndrome. When your eyes are irritated they create excess reflex tears that have a different chemical composition from everyday basal tears and evaporate quickly.
Dry eye can occur when basal tear production lessens, tear evaporation increases, or the chemical composition is imbalanced. Factors that may cause dry eye include:
- Environmental conditions such as wind, air conditioning, smoke, dry air, and seasonal allergens
- 65 years of age or older
- Medications including antihistamines, decongestants, antidepressants, birth control pills, hormone replacement therapy, Parkinson’s, blood pressure, and anti-anxiety
- Medical conditions such as autoimmune disorders, blepharitis, rosacea, thyroid disorders, vitamin A deficiency, and diabetes
- Excessive reading, screen time, or activity that encourages reduced blinking.
- Eye surgery, such as LASIK
- Long term use of contact lenses
Those experiencing dry eye symptoms should consult their eye doctor to help determine the root cause. Whether we need to add tears, conserve tears, increase tear production, or treat eyelid inflammation will help guide which treatment to choose. Easy at home treatments for dry eye include using over the counter lubricating tears, gels, and ointments. There are many different types of lubricating tears on the market. If one brand doesn’t work well for you, try another brand until you find one you like. It is important to use them regularly as this will maintain a steady level of lubrication. There are also preservative free drops for those who are sensitive to preservatives or are using them more than four times daily. Changing habits is also a simple and effective way to improve symptoms. Wearing sunglasses, eating a healthy diet, drinking plenty of water, and taking periodic breaks or blinking more when doing focused tasks can help. Applying a warm compress and proper lid hygiene using a warm, clean washcloth or lid scrubs can help in cases of meibomian gland dysfunction (clogging of the oil producing tear duct). Prescription eye medication or surgical options such as punctal plugs are treatments that may be right for you, but only after discussing your options with your primary eye care doctor. Call us at (616) 954-2020 with any questions you may have.