Dry Eyes: Causes and Treatments

A healthy adult will produce tears every minute during waking hours. Tears are there for a reason because they help to protect and lubricate the surfaces of the eyes, remove dust, and flush out inflammatory substances that accumulate when the eyes become irritated. But some Americans suffer from what is known as dry eyes. The problem occurs most often after the age of 50 when the tear production declines with age. Symptoms of dry eyes include stinging or burning sensations, eye fatigue when reading, mucus in or around the eye, and the sensation that there are particles in the eyes.

What most people don’t realize is that tears help people see. By spreading across the surface of the eye to create what is called a “tear film”, tears work with the cornea to provide the major optical surface. This is why long distance vision may be impaired with those who have chronic dry eyes. Tears are composed of 90 percent water and small amounts of salts or electrolytes and proteins that are secreted by the lacrimal glands located at the top outer edge of each eye. Tears also contain mucus and lipids produced by glands located on the edge of the eyelids. So, what are the causes and treatments for dry eyes?

There are four main conditions that cause dry eyes.

Blepharitis – Is an inflammation of the eyelids often caused by a blockage of the lipid producing glands or by the secretion of oils that are unusually thick and don’t flow properly.
Medications – Many prescription and over the counter drugs can cause dry eyes. The main ones are antihistamines, decongestants, diuretics and some antidepressants. Talk to your doctor if you experience dry eyes after taking these medications.
Inflammation – Allergies or exposure to outdoor/indoor irritants, such as dust and household cleaning products in the house can irritate the eyes and cause dry eyes. In allergy sufferers and people with chronic inflammation, there aren’t enough tears to eliminate the irritants.
Sjogren’s syndrome – This is an autoimmune disease that occurs when a person’s antibodies damage the lacrimal glands, which reduces tear production.

If you think you have dry eyes, visit an ophthalmologist, who specializes in eye diseases and surgery. There is no cure for dry eyes but there are treatments that can minimize discomfort and improve vision.

Lubricate the eyes – For those who experience mild dry eyes can usually get relief by using products that produce artificial tears one to four times a day. These products are over the counter and available in liquid and gel forms. However be very cautious using these products, using more than four times a day can damage eye cells.
Reduce inflammation – People with inflammatory conditions may need anti-inflammatory medications to diminish dry eyes. Medications such as, Restasis, can control inflammation and significantly reduce dry eyes syndrome. These drugs are used for a few months to several years. Contact your physician when using these medications. People using these products need to have their eye pressure measured monthly.
Wear moisture chamber eyeglasses – They are designed to create a high humidity environment by fitting closely to prevent moisture in the eyes from evaporating. They also minimize exposure to wind and dust particles. Many insurance policies pay for the special glasses.
Practice blinking – Sounds easy enough but many people who suffer from dry eyes experience a subconscious discomfort when they blink, so they avoid not blinking. Blinking is necessary because it causes the eyes to produce protective oils, wipes away dead skin cells, and increases tear production. Blink four times a day, 20 times.
Omega-3 supplement – The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish has anti-inflammatory effects and often reduces eye dryness.

Consult with a doctor if your eyes don’t improve with these treatments, you maybe advised to undergo punctual occlusion, which is a simple outpatient procedure in which the tear drainage ducts are either sealed with silicone plugs or permanently closed. This causes tears in the eye to remain longer and can reduce dry eyes by up to 50 percent.

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