What is dry eye?

August 4th, 2016 by Carolina Eye Associates

Dry eye, also known as dry eye disease, is a condition in which the tears do not provide adequate lubrication for the eye. It ranges in severity from mild irritation to a sight-threatening disease.

There are two major categories of dry eye:

  • Aqueous deficient dry eye disease represents a diminished production of water and therefore a reduced amount of tears.
  • Evaporative dry eye disease is the result of insufficient oil (lipid) within the tears. This creates a situation in which the tears evaporate much too quickly resulting in poor tear stability and lubrication.

The cornea is the clear, front portion of the eye, which acts much like the lens of a camera to allow our eyes to focus. It must continually be lubricated to maintain maximum transparency, and comfort. As we blink, tears are evenly dispersed across the surface of the cornea.

Tears continually bathe the cornea and conjunctiva (front part of the eye). The eyes become dry when there are insufficient amounts of water or oil making up the tears. The lacrimal gland in the outer corner of each eye is responsible for water production and smaller glands lining each eyelid produce the oil layer. The smaller glands are called meibomian glands. Meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD) is the most common cause of dry eye disease. This results in tears evaporating too rapidly and preventing lubrication.

Dry eye is most prevalent in women over 40 and men over 50. However, it is possible for it to occur at any age as a result of medical conditions and as a side effect of many medications.

Surprisingly, tearing is one of the most common symptoms dry eye. This is due to a lack of the oil component in the tears. The oil is required for the tears to function as a lubricant as opposed to just water. Without the oil component, we continue to produce water in excess in an attempt to lubricate the eye, resulting in an overflow of tears. Burning, stinging, redness, foreign body sensation and blurred vision may occur intermittently in early stages, and become more persistent as the condition progresses.

If you think you have dry eye disease over the counter artificial tears and gels may provide some relief.  Eyelid hygiene is also very important. Cleaning the lids and lashes at bedtime helps remove debris from the lashes and when combined with warm compresses this may help open clogged oil glands.
Avoid air currents directed toward your face, such as the heat or AC vents in the car. Ceiling fans or vents in the ceiling in the bedroom can be the source of waking with red irritated eyes. Vitamin supplements containing omega 3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties which may aid in tear production.
See your eye doctor to diagnose the type of dry eye you have and to determine the best plan of treatment. For more information on dry eye and possible dry eye treatments, call Carolina Eye at (910) 295-1501 or toll-free at (800) 733-9355.

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