With every blink of your eyelids, a healthy flow of tears keeps your eyes moist and healthy.
When tears don’t provide enough lubrication, you might experience the symptoms of dry eyes:
- a stinging, burning or scratchy sensation in your eyes
- a feeling of a foreign body or sand in your eyes
- sensitivity to light
- itching or redness
- blurred vision
- increased eye irritation after short periods of reading
- stringy mucus in or around your eyes
- difficulty wearing contact lenses
The importance of tears
Healthy tears consist of water for moisture, fatty oils for lubrication, mucus for evenly coating the eye surface, and antibodies and special proteins for resistance to infection. This combination, secreted by tear glands, creates a stable tear film which allows your eyes to maintain clear, comfortable vision.
Strangely enough, tears running down your cheeks can be a symptom of dry eyes. When your eyes send a distress signal for emergency lubrication, the body sends a flow of tears. However, these emergency tears are mostly water and will not provide the protection your eyes need.
The causes of dry eyes
Dry eyes are a common problem with many possible causes. Some people have an imbalance in the composition of their tears. Others can’t produce enough tears to lubricate their eyes. Additional causes of dry eyes include:
- The natural aging process. Because tear production tends to diminish with age, dry eyes are especially prevalent in people 40 or older.
- Menopause. Although the problem can affect both men and women, it is especially common in women after menopause.
- Medications including antihistamines, sleeping pills, diuretics and birth control pills.
- Diseases that affect the ability to make tears, such as Sjogren’s syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis and collagen vascular diseases.
- Structural problems with the eyes or problems with tear ducts.
- Dry air created by air conditioning, heat or other environmental conditions.
When to see your doctor
Dry eyes rarely cause permanent damage, but left untreated, the condition can cause eye inflammation, infection and corneal scarring. Be sure to seek medical advice if you’ve experienced prolonged symptoms. Your ophthalmologist can test the quality and quantity of your tears and recommend appropriate treatment.
How dry eyes are treated
While there is no cure for dry eyes, many treatments are available. Talk with your ophthalmologist about these and other treatment options:
- Artificial tears and ointments. A mild case of dry eyes is usually treatable with over-the-counter artificial tears. Lubricating ointments, which can blur vision, are best used only at bedtime. Restasis, available by prescription only, helps your eyes increase their own tear production through continued use.
- Tear conservation. Plugging the ducts that drain tears can help conserve your natural tears. Using a simple, painless procedure, your doctor partially or completely closes the tear ducts in your lower eyelids with tiny, removable silicone plugs.
- Surgery. The ducts that drain tears can be permanently closed to keep more tears in your eyes. Your ophthalmologist will perform this procedure on an outpatient basis, using a local anesthetic. If you have an eyelid abnormality or an incomplete blink that aggravates your dry eyes, plastic surgery might be advised.
Take care of yourself
Follow these simple tips to help prevent dry eyes:
- Don’t let air from hair dryers, car heaters and air conditioners blow directly in your eyes.
- Wear glasses on windy days and goggles while swimming.
- Keep your home humidity between 30 and 50 percent.
- Avoid rubbing your eyes.
- Use eye drops before engaging in activities that might irritate your eyes.
- Remember to blink and give your eyes time to rest, especially when performing tasks that require visual concentration.
Eyecare Medical Group provides examination, diagnosis and treatment of Dry Eyes and Dry Eye Syndrome in Maine and is conveniently located for patients from Auburn, Augusta, Bangor, Bath, Berwick, Biddeford, Bridgeton, Brunswick, Cape Neddick, Casco Bay, Cumberland Center, Eliot, Freeport, Gardiner, Kennebunk, Kennebunkport, Kittery, Lewiston, Old Orchard Beach, Sanford, Scarborough, South Portland, Springvale, Topsham, Waterville, Westbrook, Winslow, Wiscasset, Yarmouth, Portland, Skowhegan and York Maine.