Dry eye is a common condition in which the eyes are insufficiently lubricated, leading to itching, redness and pain. The eyes can become dry and irritated because the tear ducts are not producing a sufficient number of tears, or because there is a chemical imbalance in the tears themselves. Natural tears require a particular chemical balance to lubricate the eyes efficiently.
Alleviating the symptoms of dry eye is important. Left untreated, they have the potential to damage vision. Dry eye can be diagnosed after a thorough examination of the eyes, and a Schirmer tear test to evaluate tear production.
What Causes Dry Eye Syndrome?
People usually begin experiencing dry-eye symptoms as they age (they are more common in people older than 50), but they can also result from certain medications, medical conditions or injuries. Dry eye tends to affect women more than men because of the hormonal changes that take place during pregnancy and menopause. Oral contraceptives can also affect the consistency of tears. Other causes of dry eye include the following:
- Antihistamines, decongestants and blood-pressure medications
- Rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, Sjögren's syndrome and thyroid disease
- Environmental conditions such as smoke, wind or excessive sun
- Long-term contact lens use
- Eye injury
- Eye or eyelid surgery
- Inflammation of the eye (conjunctivitis or keratitis)
Any of these factors, alone or in combination, can affect the frequency or consistency of tears, either of which can lead to dry eye.
What Are The Symptoms Of Dry Eye?
The symptoms of dry eye typically occur in both eyes, and include the following:
- Stinging, burning or scratchiness
- Eye fatigue
- Sensitivity to light
- Difficulty wearing contact lenses
- Excessive tearing
- Blurry vision
Dry eye can damage eye tissues, leaving tiny abrasions on the surface that can impair vision. There are, however, many treatments for relieving dry-eye symptoms, restoring eye health and protecting vision.
Can Dry Eye Cause Blurry Vision?
Blurry vision is a common symptom of chronic dry eye. A healthy tear film doesn’t simply keep the front of the eye moist; it is also important for clear vision. Your tears must have the correct balance of water, oils, and mucus to allow the tear film to spread evenly across the surface of the cornea. If the tears evaporate too easily or become too oily and mucus filled, this can make your vision blurry. Blinking fully and frequently can decrease this, as it spreads the tear film across the cornea.
Can Dry Eye Cause Permanent Damage To My Eyes?
For most people, dry eye can come and go due to extended computer use, windy days, long-term wearing of contact lenses and the like. But for others, dry eye can be a chronic problem. While not associated with true vision damage, dry eye can cause significant eye inflammation and even scarring on the cornea.
Can Dry Eye Be Permanently Cured?
Dry eye can be permanently cured with punctal plugs, surgery to correct conditions such as ectropion, or even simply switching medications. It may resolve if something like a thyroid disease is successfully treated. If the Meibomian glands are blocked, opening them up and allowing the natural flow of lipids into the tears will correct the condition. But these glands may again block and need to be reopened periodically.
Is Dry Eye Treatment Safe?
The various dry eye treatments at Southside Eye Care are low risk. Insertion of punctal plugs is a simple procedure and they can be removed if your condition changes. Unblocking clogged oil glands can be done in a few different ways, and all are safe. Since dry eye is often a result of another health condition such as rheumatoid arthritis, treating your symptoms is a benefit from treating the condition. It could mean simply switching medications, as dry eye is a common side effect with some drugs.
All in all, helping you get past the chronic irritation of dry eye is far better than any small risks associated with these treatments.
Who Is A Good Candidate For Dry Eye Treatment?
Anyone suffering from the symptoms of dry eye is a good candidate for treatment at Southside with Dr. Keverline or Dr. Uber. Even if your dry eye is simply the result of getting older or as a side effect to a medication you’re taking, we can help with treatments to ease your symptoms or address the root cause, if possible.
How Is Dry Eye Syndrome Treated?
Treatment for dry eye depends on its cause and severity, as well as the patient's overall health and personal preference.
Nonsurgical treatments, which include the following, are often effective:
- Deliberately blinking
- Increasing humidity levels at home or work
- Using artificial tears or a lubricating ointment
- Avoiding environmental irritants
- Eliminating medications that may be responsible
- Adding Omega-3 fatty acids to the diet or taking them as supplements
In many cases, simple lifestyle changes can alleviate dry-eye symptoms.
If less invasive methods are unsuccessful, surgical treatments, which include the following, may be an option:
- Insertion of punctal plugs to limit tear drainage
- Punctal cautery to permanently close the drainage holes
- Treatment of an underlying disease
If an eyelid condition is causing dry eye, eyelid surgery may be recommended.
If dry eye is left untreated, it can lead to complications that include pain, corneal ulcers/scars or vision loss.
Would Punctal Plugs Be Right For Me?
If Dr. Keverline or Dr. Uber finds that your tears are exiting your eyes too quickly, before they can fully bathe the eyes, they may opt to close your tear ducts partially or completely. While this sounds complex, it is really a relatively simple in-office procedure where we insert tiny silicone plugs, known as punctal plugs, into your tear ducts. This keeps your tears on your eyes longer. A nice thing about this treatment option is that if your condition changes in the future, the plugs can be removed.
How Do Punctal Plugs Work?
Punctal plugs are simple. They are tiny silicone plugs that are placed in your tear ducts. They act like a drain stopper in a bathtub, keeping the tears in your eyes, rather than draining out through the ducts. Now that your tears stay on the surface of your eyes, the eyes receive the lubrication they need.
Is There Recovery After Treatment For Dry Eye?
These are not overly invasive treatments. If surgery is required, the insertion of punctal plugs is done in our offices on Churchland Boulevard in Chesapeake. The same is true with punctal cautery. After both of those treatments, most patients can immediately return to work or their normal activities. After cautery, there may be some increased tearing, but this is uncommon.
As you would assume, there isn’t any recovery for any nonsurgical treatment of dry eye.
Is Dry Eye Syndrome Preventable?
There are steps that can be taken to prevent dry-eye symptoms. Simple lifestyle modifications such as wearing protective glasses on windy days, and giving the eyes a break during reading or other tasks that require intense focus, can effectively reduce the frequency and severity of symptoms.
What Happens If I Don’t Treat My Dry Eye? When Should I Call Southside Eye Care?
Chronic dry eye and occasional dry eye aren’t really the same thing. A dusty, windy day could cause some dry eye symptoms, but they will pass. If you need, you can alleviate the symptoms with artificial tear eyedrops. Chronic dry eye can lead to eye damage if left untreated. Chronic dry eye won’t respond to temporary changes such as artificial tears or avoiding a source of blowing warm air. Chronic dry eye is more likely due to a lack of tear production or substandard tear quality, and it will likely need professional treatment with our two board-certified ophthalmologists at Southside Eye Care.