Some people do not produce enough tears to keep the eye healthy and comfortable. This is known as dry eye.
Tears are produced by two different methods. One method produces tears at a slow, steady rate and is responsible for normal eye lubrication. The other method produces large quantities of tears in response to eye irritation or emotions. Tears that lubricate are constantly produced by a healthy eye. Excessive tears occur when the eye is irritated by a foreign body, dryness or when a person cries.
What are the symptoms of dry eye?
The usual symptoms include:
- stinging or burning eyes
- stringy mucus in or around the eyes
- excessive eye irritation from smoke or wind
- excess tearing
- difficulty wearing contact lenses
Excess tearing from “dry eye” sounds illogical, but if the tears responsible for maintaining lubrication do not keep the eye wet enough, the eye becomes irritated. When the eye is irritated, the lacrimal gland produces a large volume of tears that overwhelm the tear drainage system. These excess tears then overflow from your eye.
What causes dry eye?
Tear production normally decreases as we age. Although dry eye can occur in both men and women at any age, women are most often affected. This is especially true after menopause. Dry eye can also be associated with other problems. For example, people with dry eyes, dry mouth and arthritis are said to have Sjogren’s syndrome. A wide variety of common medications-prescription and over-the-counter-can cause dry eye by reducing tear secretion.
Be sure to tell your ophthalmologist all the medications that you are taking, especially if you are using:
- sleeping pills
- medications for “nerves”
- pain relievers
Since these medications are often necessary, the dry eye condition may have to be tolerated or treated with “artificial tears.” People with dry eye are often more prone to the toxic side effects of eye medications, including artificial tears. For example, the preservatives in certain eyedrops and artificial tear preparations can irritate the eye. Special preservative-free artificial tears may be required.
How is dry eye diagnosed?
An ophthalmologist is usually able to diagnose dry eye by examining the eyes. Sometimes tests that measure tear production may be necessary.
How is dry eye treated?
Eyedrops called artificial tears are similar to your own tears. They lubricate the eyes and help maintain moisture. Artificial tears are available without a prescription. There are many brands on the market, so you may want to try several to find the one you like best. Preservative-free eyedrops are available if you are sensitive to the preservatives in artificial tears. If you need to use artificial tears more than every two hours, preservative-free brands may be better for you. You can use the tears as often as necessary-once or twice a day or as often as several times an hour.
Other more advanced treatments may be necessary for severe dry eyes.