Dry Eye : Boulder Eye Surgeons
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Dry Eye

ENLARGE TEXT

What is Dry Eye?

Dry eye is a condition where your eye is not producing enough lubricating tears. This can be a little confusing since one of the most common symptoms of dry eye syndrome is excessive watering of the eyes! How is this possible?

The eye makes two different types of tears:

 

Lubricating Tears

Contain a precise balance of water mucus, oil, nutrient proteins, and antibodies to nourish and protect the front surface of the eye. Lubricating tears are produced slowly and steadily throughout the day.

 

Reflex Tears

Do not have much lubricating value. Reflex tears are exactly what the name suggests, they are an automatic reflex to flush the eye when it is suddenly irritated or injured. These 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 when you’re cutting onions, when you’re around smoke, or when you accidentally scratch your eye. With dry eye syndrome, the primary cause of reflex tearing is irritation of the eye from lack of lubricating tears.

In addition to continuous reflex tearing, many patients describe their symptoms as if they had a spec of sand in their eye. Itching and burning can occur. Vision can become blurry and the eyes can become red and produce a mucous discharge.

 

Dry eye syndrome often occurs as a part of the natural aging process. As we age, glands in the eyelid produce less oil which allows tears to evaporate too quickly. Oil keeps tears from evaporating off the eye, preventing the eye from becoming too dry.

 

There are roughly 30 million people in the United States and over 300 million worldwide who have been diagnosed with dry eye. Most have learned to live with eye discomfort and have become dependent on drops or other treatment methods that only offer temporary relief. This has been due to a lack of understanding that the root cause of most dry eye (86%) is now known to be a chronic and progressive condition, Meibomian Gland Dysfunction or MGD.

 

MGD occurs when there is a compromise to the function and/or structure of the meibomian glands in the eyelids that produce the protective oily layer of the tear film. These glands can become blocked over time and can no longer produce oils needed for healthy tears. This blockage results in rapid evaporation of your tears and can lead to irritation, discomfort and if not treated gland dropout.

Other causes of dry eye can include:

  • Diseases such as Diabetes, Sjogren’s and Parkinson’s
  • Post-menopausal or other hormonal changes
  • Prescription medications 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
  • Hot, dry, or windy conditions
  • High altitude, air-conditioning, and smoke
  • Reading, using a computer, or watching TV
  • Contact lenses
  • Various types of eye surgery including LASIK

Measuring your rate of tear production and checking how long it takes for tears to evaporate in between blinks are two ways your eye doctor can check for dry eye. By using magnifying instruments, the doctor can also check for pinpoint scratches on the front surface of the eye caused by dryness using special, colored eyedrops called fluorescein or Rose Bengal.

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