Tears do more than just express emotions during your favorite Nicholas Sparks movie: they also clean and moisturize your eyes.
About 16 million people In the United States, they have been diagnosed with a condition known as dry eye disease, in which not enough tears are produced or they dry too quickly. And it is more common in women, especially around menopause. If you have dry eye disease, you may notice that you wake up in the morning with dry, gritty, red, and irritated eyes. Dry eyes can also cause blurred vision. Fortunately, there are treatment options that can help.
What is dry eye disease?
Every time you blink, tears spread across the surface of your eye, lubricating, cleaning, and keeping your vision clear. this is your body tear filmwhich consists of three layers: the outer oily layer, the middle aqueous layer and the inner mucous layer.
If you don’t produce enough tears or they evaporate too quickly, you can end up with dry eyes. While everyone may experience dry eyes occasionally, dry eye disease is a medical condition that can be chronic, meaning it lasts a long time.
There is two types of dry eye disease, and most people suffer from a combination of both.
- Evaporative dry eye: Here you are producing enough tears, but you are missing the oily outer layer that prevents tears from evaporating too quickly.
- Water-deficient dry eye: This type means that you do not produce enough tears to adequately moisten the eye.
What are the symptoms of dry eye disease?
Dry eye disease may feel like your eyes are gritty or like you have something in your eye. In addition to feeling itchy, you may also warning:
- Redness, stinging, or burning
- Light sensitivity
- Blurred vision (especially when reading)
- Vision changes
- Pain or pain when wearing contact lenses.
- Stringy mucus in or near the eye
- Crying eyes
What are the risk factors for dry eye disease?
There are certain factors that put you at higher risk for dry eye disease that you have no control over, such as being over 50 years old or being female at birth.
Other risk factors may include:
- use of contact lenses
- Medicines such as diuretics (water pills), cold and allergy medicines, and some antidepressants.
- History of certain eye conditions or other medical conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, diabetes, and Sjögren’s syndrome.
- Staring or concentrating for long periods of time without blinking, such as while reading
- Excessive screen usage
- Undergo LASIK eye surgery or cataract surgery
- Cosmetics like eyelash extensions
- Living in dry, windy climates or being near smoke.
Some people think there may be a connection between dry eyes and headaches. One study 2021 showed that there may be a link between people with dry eyes and migraine attacks.
How is dry eye disease diagnosed?
To be diagnosed with dry eye disease, you may see a ophthalmologist or optometrist, doctors who specialize in treating eye conditions and perform an comprehensive eye exam. This includes looking at her eyes and how they blink, as well as asking about medications she is taking and if she has any other health conditions.
Your ophthalmologist may perform some tests, including:
- Slit lamp test: This is to check if your eyes produce tears.
- Schirmer test: Using a small piece of paper placed against your lower eyelid, your doctor can see how many tears wet the paper.
- Tear Breakup Time Test (TBUT): This test checks how long the tear film remains in your eyes after you blink.
How can dry eye disease be controlled or treated?
There are a variety of treatment options available for dry eye disease that you can discuss with your ophthalmologist. These include:
- Over-the-counter options: Artificial tears, gels, ointments, and eyelid cleaning solutions may offer relief from some DED symptoms.
- Prescription drugs: You can treat dry eyes in a variety of ways, such as decreasing inflammation or increasing tear production.
- Silicone plugs: Your doctor may recommend placing silicone plugs in your tear ducts to keep tears in your eyes longer.
- Special contacts: Wearing special contact lenses can help protect your eyes.
- Office procedures: Eye care professionals use medical devices that involve heat or light to help open the glands in the eye so the oil can flow better and lubricate the eye.
You might also consider asking your eye doctor about supplements or vitamins for dry eyes, such as:
- Omega-3 fatty acids: Eating foods that contain omega-3 such as salmon, tuna, and sardines could help increase tear production. However, supplements may not be as effective as other treatments.
- Vitamin A: Could help improve tear film and lubricate your eyes.
- Vitamin D: Research has shown that taking vitamin D may improve eye health by addressing vitamin D deficiency associated with dry eye disease. It may also increase the effectiveness of some eye drops.
- B12 vitamin: Using vitamin B12 along with eye drops can help repair nerve damage that is causing your symptoms and could help improve them.
If you wake up with dry eyes or notice that your eyes are dry frequently, talk to your healthcare provider about your concerns. Getting a diagnosis can help you start treatment as soon as possible.
This educational resource was created with the support of theMore real. More substance. Youtube channel from the Viatris Eye Care Division.