Dry eye syndrome is caused by a chronic lack of sufficient lubrication and moisture on the surface of the eye. Consequences of dry eyes range from subtle but constant eye irritation to significant inflammation and even scarring of the front surface of the eye.
Symptoms of dry eyes and dry eye syndrome include:
Another common symptom is something called a foreign body sensation — the feeling that grit or some other object or material is “in” your eye.
An adequate and consistent layer of tears on the surface of the eye is essential to keep your eyes healthy, comfortable and seeing well. Tears bathe the eye’s surface to keep it moist and wash away dust, debris and microorganisms that could damage the cornea and lead to an eye infection.
A normal tear film consists of three important components:
Dry eye syndrome
Each component of the tear film serves a critical purpose. For example, tear lipids help keep the tear film from evaporating too quickly and increase lubrication, while mucin helps anchor and spread the tears across the surface of the eye.
Each tear component is produced by different glands on or near the eye:
A problem with any of these sources of tear film components can result in tear instability and dry eyes, and there are different categories of dry eyes, depending on which component is affected.
For example, if the meibomian glands don’t produce or secrete enough oil (meibum), the tear film may evaporate too quickly — a condition called “evaporative dry eye.” The underlying condition — called meibomian gland dysfunction — is now recognized as a significant factor in many cases of dry eye syndrome.
In other cases, the primary cause of dry eye is a failure of the lacrimal glands to produce enough watery fluid (aqueous) to keep the eyes adequately moistened. This condition is called “aqueous deficiency dry eye.”
The specific type of dry eye often will determine the type of treatment your eye doctor recommends to give you relief from your dry eye symptoms.
A number of factors can increase your risk of dry eyes. These include:
Also, LASIK and other corneal refractive surgery can sometimes cause dry eyes. In most cases, however, dry eye discomfort after LASIK is temporary and resolves within a few weeks of the procedure.
If you have dry eyes prior to LASIK, your eye doctor may recommend a dry eye treatment regimen before your procedure to insure the best possible LASIK results.
The only way to know for sure if you’ve got chronic dry eye syndrome is to have your eye doctor perform one or more dry eye tests during an eye exam.
Symptoms alone are poor predictors of the presence and severity of dry eye disease. Symptoms can vary significantly from person to person, and may even be affected by personality type. Some people with only minimal or mild dry eyes may feel their eyes are very bothersome, while others may have significant dry eye problems and not consider their symptoms significant enough to see an eye doctor (or they may not experience dry eye symptoms at all).
Only a careful examination of your eyes by an ophthalmologist can reveal the presence and severity of dry eye syndrome and help your eye doctor determine the best type of dry eye treatment to keep your eyes healthy, comfortable and seeing well.
Thankfully, there are effective treatment options if you suffer from chronic dry eye. In many cases, routine use of artificial tears and minor behavioral modifications (taking frequent breaks during computer use, for example) can significantly reduce dry eye symptoms.
In other cases, your eye doctor might recommend prescription eye medications and in-office procedures to help your body create and secrete more tears and to decrease eye irritation and inflammation.
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