Tears play an important role in the health of the eye by providing needed lubrication, nourishment, and protection.
Our tears are produced by the glands in and around the eyelids. As we grow older, or sometimes as a side effect of a medication or an environmental condition, tear production is diminished and rapid tear evaporation may occur. As a result, dry eye symptoms, or a chronic condition, known as keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS), may occur. Improper tear drainage may also be a contributing factor to dry eyes.
Symptoms of dry eyes may include:
- Itchy, burning, or gritty sensation
- Foreign body sensation
- Blurred vision
- Excessive watery eyes.
What causes it?
Most often dry eyes are a natural result of the aging process, especial after age 65. Women are also prone to developing a dry eye condition during pregnancy or menopause, or due to the use of contraceptives. Medications, such as antihistamines, decongestants, and antidepressants, may also influence a reduction in tear production, along with medical conditions ranging from diabetes to rheumatoid arthritis. Long-term prescription contact lens use, as well as refractive eye surgeries, such as LASIK, may also decrease tear production. When it comes to the environment we live in, factors affecting our eyes include pollution, smoke, wind, and dry climates. Even staring at a computer screen for a prolonged amount of time and not blinking enough may affect tear production.
How is it treated?
If you suspect you may suffer from dry eyes, schedule an eye exam for testing and evaluation of the quantity and quality of your tears, along with tear drainage. Mild cases are often treated with over-the-counter artificial tear solutions. If needed, your eye care specialist may recommend prescription drops or nutritional supplements. In some cases to conserve tears, surgery or “plugs” may be used to unblock tear ducts. While dry eyes may not seem like a life-threatening condition, without treatment, vision may become impaired and the front surface of the eye may become damaged.