Your eye makes two different types of tears: lubricating and reflex. Lubricating tears are produced continuously. They contain mucous, oils, water, nutrients and antibodies to nourish and protect the surface of your eyes. Reflex tears serve as a kind of emergency response to flood the eye when it is suddenly irritated or injured. The reflex tears gush out in such large quantities that the tear drainage system can’t handle them all and they spill out onto your cheek. Reflex tears might occur when:
- You get something in your eye
- You’re cutting onions
- You’re around smoke
- You accidentally scratch your eye
- The eye is irritated due to a lack of lubricating tears
Symptoms of Dry Eye
The name dry eye can be misleading since one of the most common symptoms is excessive watering. Other symptoms include:
- A feeling of “sand” in your eyes
- Eyes that itch and burn
- Vision that becomes blurred after periods of reading, watching TV or using a computer
- Red, irritated eyes that produce a mucous discharge
Common Causes of Dry Eye
- Age: As we get older, the gland that creates watery tears becomes less productive.
- Diseases including diabetes, Sjogren’s and Parkinson’s.
- Hormonal changes, especially after menopause.
- Prescription medications: These include some high blood pressure medications, antihistamines, diuretics, antidepressants, anti-anxiety pills, sleeping pills and pain medications. Over-the-counter medications including some cold and allergy products, motion sickness remedies and sleep aids can also cause dry eye.
- Hot, dry or windy conditions: High altitude and air-conditioning can also cause dry eye by increasing the evaporation of the tears.
- Reading, using a computer or watching TV with a decrease in blink frequency and increasing evaporation of the tears.
- Eye surgery: Some types of eye surgery, including LASIK, can aggravate dry eye. This gradually improves over the first 6 months after surgery.
- Inflammation: Some people have chronic inflammation in the meibomian glands, the glands in the eyelids that produce the oily part of the tears. Oil keeps the watery part of the tears from evaporating too quickly. The inflamed oil glands produce less of, and a poorer quality of, the oil. Decreased oil production allows tears to evaporate too quickly, leaving the eye too dry.
Treatments for Dry Eye
While there are many options to treat dry eye, patients should first consult a physician and receive a full exam. Dry eye can be caused by multiple sources, so it is important to first diagnose the source of the issue so that it may be properly treated. During the exam, our doctors will assess your history, examine your eyes and test the quality of your tears. The cornea and eyelids will also be examined to determine options for treatment. The saltiness of your tears (osmolarity) is also measured using the TearLab Osmolarity System®. Increased salt content can damage the surface cells of your eyes. This test requires just a tiny sample of your tear fluid to show if your osmolarity is normal, mild, moderate or severe. Once a proper medical examination has been performed, the doctor will then prescribe a course of treatment. These treatments range from artificial tears (eye drops) to steroids and possibly surgery. Tests such as the TearLab Osmolarity test can be repeated over time to see how the treatment is improving your dry eye condition. If non-prescription artificial tears are not sufficient to treat your dry eye, some common treatments include:
- Punctal Plugs – Treatment for dry eye may involve a simple, non-surgical procedure that provides long-term relief using tiny silicone plugs called Punctal plugs. Punctal plugs have a very high rate of success and are easily and painlessly inserted into your tear drainage ducts where they act as a dam. Your tears have no place to go but onto the surface of your eyes. Punctal plugs are also used for some patients after LASIK surgery since keeping the eyes moist is important during the healing process.
If you feel you may be suffering from dry eye syndrome in Rapid City, please call us today to schedule an eye exam.