Everyone's felt that itching, burning sensation associated with dry eyes. Sometimes the cause is obvious – a trip in an airplane, allergies. However, sometimes the cause is less obvious. Eye dryness may be a situational problem, but sometimes dry eyes are their own persistent syndrome. Discover the difference – and what you can do about it.
Causes of Dry Eyes
The obvious cause of having dry eyes is lack of adequate tears. Several factors contribute to this situation:
- Age: People over 50 years old typically have drier eyes.
- Hormones: Women past menopause often suffer from dry eyes due to hormonal changes.
- Structural damage: Inflammation can cause damage to the tear glands, as can radiation.
- Medical condition: Rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Sjogren's syndrome, diabetes, scleroderma, vitamin A deficiency and thyroid disorders are associated with decreased tear production.
Additionally, medications can cause the eyes to dry out. High blood pressure medication, antidepressants, hormone replacement therapy, antihistamines and certain acne medications can cause eyes to dry out.
Part of the problem could be poor tear quality. Tears aren't simply water – they are, in fact water mixed with mucus and fatty oils designed by the body to promote lubrication on the surface of your eyes. If there's an issue with any of the three components, you could suffer from dry eye syndrome.
Diagnosing Dry Eye Syndrome
Diagnosing dry eye syndrome may be a three-step process.
First, your optometrist conducts a thorough exam. If necessary, the optometrist may conduct a Schirmer test by placing blotting strips under your lower eyelids. This test helps determine if the volume of your tears is sufficient.
If the examination and the Schirmer test don't pinpoint the cause, your doctor may try digging deeper into the problem. Optometrists have several tests they can use to determine the quality of your tears. These typically involve eyedrops with dyes in them that determine the makeup of your tears.
Treating Dry Eye Syndrome
Numerous treatments exist for dry eye syndrome, according to Web MD. They range from homeopathic to surgical. If you just have occasional dry eyes, treating the symptom may be enough. But if your dry eyes are causing problems for you, then the underlying cause of the symptom has to be addressed.
Dry eye syndrome can be treated with medications in many cases. Antibiotics can reduce inflammation in the eyelid, while prescription eyedrops can control inflammation on the cornea. If the condition is moderate to severe, your doctor may prescribe eye inserts. These are tiny grains of hydroxypropyl cellulose that you insert under your lower eyelid. As the grain dissolves, it lubricates your eye.
If the condition is severe enough, your doctor may suggest more significant treatment. For instance, a procedure called thermal pulsation can clear blocked oil glands. Another option is plugging the tear ducts to prevent your natural tears from draining away. You might even consider corneal shields, bandage contact lenses that protect the surface of your eyes.
If your dry eyes are significant enough that you notice them regularly, you may have dry eye syndrome. Book an appointment with your optometrist, like those at the Eye Institute of South Jersey, and keep a journal of when you notice the symptoms. Then you'll be ready to talk to your doctor about dry eye treatments.