Dry Eyes are a VERY common problem. The syndrome can cause a multitude of symptoms and signs, and (in rare cases) can lead to damage to the front surface of the eye. It can even result in permanent damage to the vision if untreated in severe cases.
The most common sufferers of dry eyes are women. This problem becomes more common and more severe in women who have gone through menopause, since changes in the hormonal balance lead to loss of tear production. Many men have dry eyes as well, and post-LASIK patients as well as patients with allergies can suffer from dry eyes. Many medications can lead to dryness too.
What are the symptoms of Dry Eye Syndrome?
The variety of symptoms associated with dry eyes is surprising. There are symptoms that involve sensation on the eye, as well as symptoms that can affect vision.
Foreign Body Sensation
Foreign body sensation is the feeling that something is stuck in the eye. Patients may also complain that their eyes feel gritty, sandy, dry or sore.
Blurred vision is a common problem, due to uneven coverage of the front of the eye because of inadequate tear production. Patients will experience this to a larger degree when they are reading or working on the computer.
This symptom is usually very surprising to patients. They ask “Why would my eye tear if it is dry? And if it is tearing, why doesn’t that take care of the problem?”. The tearing is due to a response to irritation in the eye. Unfortunately, these tears are the very thin, watery ‘reflex tears’ that only wash the front of the eye, but do not moisturize. This is similar to trying to moisten dry skin by running water over your hands. While it temporarily wets the skin, water does not truly moisturize. Likewise, reflex tears are ineffective in relieving the symptoms of dry eye syndrome.
How is Dry Eye Syndrome treated?
There are 3 basic modes of treatment; tear replacement, tear gland rejuvenation, and tear drain closure.
Over-the-counter artificial tears are available at any pharmacy, and can be used up to 5 o 6 times daily. If preservative-free tears are used, this frequency is almost unlimited.
Tear Gland Rejuvenation
A prescription drop, Restasis, has been shown to promote regrowth of tear, mucous and oil glands to provide an increase in a patient’s tear production.
Tear Drain Closure
There is a tear drain in the corner of each eyelid that allows tear flow into the nose. These openings can be closed in a variety of ways, some permanent, some temporary. When this is successful, the patient’s tears stay in the eye longer to increase moisture.