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What are dry eyes?

dry eyesEye Diagram Probably the most common problem seen in the ophthalmologist’s office is dry eyes. Tears normally keep the eyes moistened and lubricated. When tear production is reduced or tears are lost through evaporation, dry eyes can develop. While discomfort is the primary result of dry eyes, if this condition is not treated, infection and corneal scarring may occur.

Tear film, which constantly covers the eye, is made up of three layers. The oily outer layer reduces evaporation of the tears. The watery middle layer cleanses the eye and washes away foreign particles or irritants. The inner layer consists of mucus, which coats the surface evenly and allows the tears to adhere to the surface of the eye.

LarcimalTear drainage Tears flow into the eye from two separate glands. The lacrimal glands, which are located above the eye, produce watery tears to moisten the eye as well as “crying tears.” The tarsal glands, located in the eyelids, produce a tear film that constantly moistens and lubricates the eye.

Tears drain from the eye through two small openings called the upper and lower punctum. From the punctum the tears drain through the tear sac and out into the nasal passages.

What are the symptoms of dry eyes?

symptoms of dry eyesdry eyeCommon symptoms of dry eyes include stinging, burning, redness, sensitivity to light and stringy mucus. People with dry eyes often describe the feeling in their eyes as gritty, itchy and dry. Some patients may experience their eyelids sticking together in the morning.
It may be difficult and uncomfortable to wear contact lenses with dry eyes. Contact lenses normally float on top of tears, and with dry eyes they could rub against the surface of the eye, causing irritation and redness.

Surprisingly, watery eyes may also be a symptom of dry eyes. Sometimes, the eye produces excess tears in response to the irritation. These excess tears lack the oil needed to keep them from evaporating, so they cannot actually lubricate the eye.

Who is at risk for dry eyes?

Dry eyes are more common among the elderly because tear production decreases with age. Dry eyes are also more common with contact lens wearers and women, especially during menopause or pregnancy. Dry eyes often occur in patients with arthritis. Medications and Vitamin A deficiency may also cause dry eyes by reducing tear secretions. In addition, environmental factors such as sun, wind, pollution, dry air for heating or air conditioning and smoke contribute to the occurrence of dry eyes. Finally, abnormal eyelid location may cause dry eyes.

How are dry eyes diagnosed?

dry eyes diagnoseDry eyes are diagnosed with a simple eye examination, a dye test or the Schirmer Test. In the Schirmer tear strip test, filtered paper strips are placed just inside the lower eyelid to measure the rate of tear production. In some cases, temporary closure of the punctum may be performed to determine if eye discomfort is due to dry eyes.


Can I prevent dry eyes?

Dry eye symptoms cannot be prevented entirely, but you can minimize your chances of getting dry eyes by identifying activities in your day to day routine that may cause dry eyes.

Below is a list of actions you can take to help prevent dry eyes:

  • Take frequent breaks during prolonged computer use to reduce eye strain
  • Remove your contact lenses and keep them clean, especially when your eyes are feeling dry
  • Be aware that certain medications can cause dry eye syndrome as a side effect
  • Use humidifiers at home and work to put moisture in the air
  • Avoid drafts from heating and air conditioning vents

How are dry eyes treated?

Artificial tears and ointments are the most common treatment for dry eyes. Eye drops are used to lubricate the eye and replace missing moisture. There are various types of eye drops your doctor can prescribe that best deal with your particular needs.

If artificial tears alone fail to provide sufficient relief from dry eyes, the punctum must be permanently narrowed or sealed to keep the tears from draining out of the eye as quickly. The punctum may be blocked by the insertion of a special plug. The punctum can also be narrowed or blocked using surgical techniques. This procedure can be performed in the doctor’s office and is painless since a local anesthetic is administered before the treatment.

If you think you have dry eyes or any time you are not seeing clearly, you should immediately call for an appointment with an eye care professional.
Here at The Eye Centers of Racine & Kenosha we keep up to date on new research and new treatments. Call 262 637 0500 today!  to scheduled your appointment.

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