The Science of Dry Eye Syndrome

The watery layer in the middle of the eye is the largest and thickest. It keeps the eye moist and comfortable by flushing out irritants (like dust, particles, and other random debris). Defects in this layer are the most common cause of Dry Eye Syndrome. Tears themselves are made of three layers: oil, water, and mucus. If the tears evaporate too quickly or spread unevenly across the cornea, dry eye symptoms develop.

The most common form of dry eyes is caused by low amounts of the water layer of tears. This condition is called keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS), or Dry Eye Syndrome. Dry Eye Syndrome causes changes in tear production, but it’s extremely common and usually very benign.

The Symptoms and Causes of Dry Eye Syndrome

Are your eyes stinging, burning, scratchy, watery, or full of stringy mucus around the eyes? Congratulations, you’ve just joined the five million Americans who also suffer from Dry Eye Syndrome.

Excess tearing and watery eyes may sound counterintuitive, but it’s the eyes’ way of trying to flush out the irritants. Hormonal changes, like menopause, are usually to blame for Dry Eye Syndrome. More than three million American women over 50 have moderate to severe DES, compared to about 1.5 million men. People with systemic diseases like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and thyroid disease are usually most at risk, as well as people on certain medicines, anyone who has had LASIK, and people who are extra-sensitive to environmental factors like wind or dry air. On a lower level, people who spend large amounts of time looking at a screen blink less frequently and may experience moderate dry eyes. It can also be caused by a windy climate, smoke, or air conditioning—all of which speed tear evaporation. Dry eyes can be side effects of many medications, from antihistamines to antidepressants, beta-blockers, and oral contraceptives; this unfortunately may be a condition you have to tolerate.

Dry Eye Treatment

Whenever a patient comes to me with dry eyes, I look closely and test their tear production. After a Dry Eye Syndrome diagnosis, the first and easiest suggestion I give is that they invest in some artificial tears. These eye drops are available over-the-counter and can be used as frequently as need. Omega-3 fatty acids, like those found in salmon and flax seeds, can also stimulate production of more tears.

 

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For more serious cases, we occasionally recommend a procedure to help the patient conserve her tears. To understand this, you need to know that tears drain out of the eye through a small channel into the nose—which is why your nose runs whenever you cry. We can close the channels either temporarily or permanently, depending on the severity of the patient’s symptoms.

If you’ve dealt with chronic dry eye with little relief, visit our Dry Eye Center at our East Hanover location.

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