What are dry eyes?
Some people do not produce enough tears to keep the eye wet and comfortable. Stinging, burning, scratchiness, stringy mucus, and excess irritation from smoke are the usual symptoms. Dry eyes can make it difficult to wear contact lenses.
Surprisingly, increased tearing may be a symptom of dry eyes. If the basic tear secretion is below normal, excess tears are produced by one of the tear glands in response to irritation. This is much like the tears you get when cutting onions. Even though the eye is basically dry, overflow tearing can occur, masking the dryness which caused the tears in the first place! There are two kinds of tears. Those tears which lubricate the eye are produced around the clock. Those tears which respond to irritation or emotion are produced only when the eye is irritated or a person cries.
What causes dry eyes?
Tear production normally decreases with age. Although dry eyes can occur in both men and women at any age, women, especially after menopause, are most often afflicted. Dry eyes can also be associated with arthritis and accompanied by a dry mouth. People with dry eyes, dry mouth, and arthritis have Sjogren’s syndrome. For more information, contact the Sjogren’s syndrome foundation at (516) 767-2866. Some drugs and medications can also cause dry eyes by reducing tear production. Since these medications are often necessary, the dry eye condition may have to be tolerated or treated with artificial tear drops or other treatments (see “treatment” below).
Replacing natural tears with artificial tears is the basis of treatment. Artificial tears are available without a prescription and are used as eyedrops to lubricate the eyes and replace missing moisture. There are many brands of artificial tears on the market. You should try several different brands to see which one suits you the best. All artificial tears are not the same! We have samples in the office we would be happy to provide to you! The artificial tears may be used as often as necessary, only once or twice a day, or as often as several times an hour.
Another form of treatment involves blocking the drainage of tears out of the eye. The tears drain into a tiny hole on the inside of your upper and lower eyelids. The tears then drain into the back of your nose and throat. The small opening in the eyelids can be temporarily or permanently closed. The closure creates a reservoir of tears which allows the eyes to stay moist for longer periods of time.
Preventing the evaporation of tears can also prove helpful. In winter, when the heat is turned on, a humidifier can add moisture to dry air. In the summer, avoid car air conditioners that blow directly in to your eyes. Other things that can cause evaporation are hair dryers and windy days. Avoiding smoke can be helpful.
Some people with dry eyes complain of scratchy eyes upon awakening. This can be treated by using a lubricating ointment or gel at bedtime. Pull down your lower eyelid with one finger and squeeze some ointment on the inside of your lower eyelid. Close your eyes and the ointment will absorb. Your vision will be blurred after ointment is administered. Therefore, most patients use it at bedtime only, although it can be used throughout the day if necessary.