‘Tis the season…for dry eyes?

NikkiKlein_thumbby Nicole Klein, OD at The Eye Center at Southwest Health

If your eyes feel dry, gritty, burn, are watering, or your vision fluctuates with blinking, you may have what is now more commonly known as tear film insufficiency or dry eye syndrome. This condition can result from environmental or weather changes, contact lens use, certain medications, a history of eye surgery, or even just the normal aging process.

The tear film is the thin layer of liquid that coats the front surface of the eye (cornea). This layer is made up of three main ingredients: oil, water, and mucus. All three of these components need to be in the proper ratio and mixture or the eyes can suffer.

tear-filmThe most common culprit for tear film insufficiency is that the oil layer of the tear film is lacking. This lack of oil results in tears that evaporate too quickly off the ocular surface. The body then tries to fix the problem by overproducing the other components of the tear film, namely the watery layer. When this overproduction occurs, your eyes may tear excessively. It seems confusing for many patients to find out they have “dry eyes” when they are always tearing, but the body is just trying to regain proper balance and is not able to effectively do so.  In order to treat dry eye syndrome, we need to improve the oil layer of the tear film and break this vicious cycle of tearing and irritation.

How can you do this? There are small glands that run underneath the upper and lower eyelids which produce the oil layer of the tear film. One way is by applying a hot pack (such as a Bruder mask available for purchase in the Eye Center) over closed eyes for 10 minutes at a time which can stimulate and improve the oil production from these glands. There are also over-the-counter and prescription eye drops that may be helpful to enhance and replace the oil layer back into the tear film. These can also help reduce other symptoms of irritation and inflammation of the ocular surface. Not all eye drops are created equal, however. Applying heat and eye drops are just a few of the many treatment options for this problem.

Tear film insufficiency or dry eye syndrome can be a simple annoyance or a debilitating problem for many patients.  We, at The Eye Center at Southwest Health, are here to assist you with the diagnosis of this condition and in finding the best treatment options for keeping your eyes looking, seeing, and feeling their best at this time of the year, and always.

For more information on dry eye syndrome and other eye conditions, visit The Eye Center page

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