DRY EYE SYNDROME
Tears are essential for healthy and eyes and vision.
What is Dry Eye Syndrome?
Dry Eye Syndrome, or DES, is a condition caused by a lack of naturally producing tears. Tears are an essential aspect of eye health because they lubricate the surface of the eyes, keeping them moist and comfortable. When the body is unable to produce an adequate amount of tears, the eyes can begin to dry out, leading to itchy, red, and painful eyes.
Tears are more than just fluid in the eye; they have a chemical makeup comprised of water, enzymes, proteins, metabolites, lipids, and mucins.
Tears are important because they keep your eyes well-lubricated and protect them from foreign bodies or dust particles, which can cause irritation. When an insufficient amount of tears is produced in the tear ducts, Dry Eye Syndrome occurs.
Enzymes are proteins that cause a chemical reaction inside the body
Proteins are molecules containing amino acids that are found in tissues in the body
Metabolites are small molecules that are related to metabolism
Lipids are molecules with an oily substance which contain healthy fats
Mucins are glycoproteins that helps cells stick together
The most frequent types of Dry Eye symptoms include:
- Blurry vision
- Burning sensation
- Gritty feeling
- Itchy eyes
- Watery eyes
It may seem ironic, but one symptom of DES is watery eyes. This occurs when the body attempts to self-soothe the dryness by producing excessive tears, a condition known as Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca (KCS). The tears lack a sufficient amount of water, so although these tears may provide temporary relief, the excessiveness of the tear production isn’t healthy.
There are a wide range of treatments ranging from over the counter products to specialty laser procedures. Many times using artificial tears and vitamin supplements can help boost the tear film. There are prescription eye drops that can aid in tear production as well as laser procedures for patients with more advanced dry eye.
Of course – stay hydrated and making sure you consume enough water each day. Additionally, take breaks from your computer and smart phone. I recommend the 20/20/20 Rule – take a 20 second break every 20 minutes and look 20 feet away and blink your eyes. Finally, wearing sunglasses is critical to protecting the surface of the eye and the eyelids from UV exposure.
Who Is at Risk for Developing Dry Eye Syndrome?
Like other diseases and eye conditions, there are some people who are more susceptible to developing DES. Age, gender, medical conditions, even the environment can contribute to sensitivity to dry eyes.
Certain medical conditions can make Dry Eye more prevalent. Patients with any of the following diseases may notice signs of DES symptoms:
- Arthritis, an inflammation of the joints
- Blepharitis, an inflammation of the eyelid, usually caused by skin conditions such as dandruff or rosacea
- Diabetes, a condition causing high blood glucose levels
- Glaucoma, a disease of the optic nerve, which causes vision loss
- Hypertension, high blood pressure in the arteries
- Lupus, a chronic autoimmune disease that causes damage to healthy tissue
- Thyroid Disorder, when the tissues that surround the eyes become swollen or inflamed
- Vitamin A Deficiency, when there is an insufficient amount of Vitamin A, which normally helps protect the cornea
People who live in areas with heavy winds or with dusty or dry air may find that their eyes often feel dry. Being around smoke or hair dryers can cause the same reaction. Being in direct aim of a heater or air conditioning unit can also dry out the eyes.
Women are more prone to DES because of hormonal changes due to pregnancy, birth control, and menopause. Women over age 50 have a 50% greater risk of developing Dry Eye than men of the same age. Additionally, women tend to visit their doctor more often than men and at earlier stages of discomfort, so diagnosing the condition in women is more common.
According to the National Eye Institute, the risk of experiencing DES goes up with age. That’s because the natural tears of the eye decrease over time, which is a natural part of aging. As the patient’s tear production diminishes, signs of Dry Eye increase.
Treatment for Dry Eye Syndrome
Dr. Heather Miller treats patients from all over Pennsylvania who have Dry Eye. Our staff has the experience and knowledge needed to help give you relief from DES symptoms and improve your quality of life.
Depending on your specific case, we may recommend artificial tears or lubricant eye drops to produce tears to moisten and make your eyes feel more comfortable. Prescription drops can help stimulate tear production and, in some cases, steroids can provide significant short-term relief.
For patients with more severe DES, the doctor may suggest the use of punctal plugs. These tiny devices are placed inside the tear duct to block tears from draining. As the natural moisture is prevented from leaking out, it remains in the eye and coats it properly, keeping it lubricated and comfortable.
Scleral lenses can provide effective relief, as well. These are custom-designed rigid contact lenses with a large diameter that cover the entire sclera (the white part of the eye) without touching the cornea. Scleral lenses contain a tiny pool of water, providing constant moisture to dry eyes.
IPL is a treatment involving a high-energy wavelength of light targeted to melt and release built up oils blocked by abnormal blood vessels causing inflammation of the meibomian glands. It is also effective in decreasing Demodex mites which stimulates infections and leads to inflammation.
IPL, a commonly used dermatology treatment used to address sun spots, acne scars and rosacea, is now available to address chronic dry eye disease and meibomian gland disease. Each treatment takes about 20 minutes to perform and while patients often notice substantial improvements of their dry eye symptoms after 1 or 2 initial treatments, we recommend a series of 4 treatments, spaced 2-4 weeks apart.
Medications and Dry Eye
All medications include warnings of possible side effects which some patients may experience. There are certain categories of medications that are known to decrease natural tear production, such as:
- Anxiety medications
- Birth control pills
- Blood pressure medication
If you are taking any of these medications and feeling any signs of Dry Eye, speak with Dr. Heather Miller about some alternative medications or treatments to alleviate your symptoms
Many symptoms of Dry Eye Syndrome last for the short term, meaning, they can fade with proper treatment or sometimes, on their own. Blurry vision, itchy or red eyes, and stinging can be treated effectively and perhaps eventually disappear.
Some symptoms of Dry Eye Syndrome have long-term effects, which means that they can last for months or even years. These may include:
- Corneal abrasions or ulcers
- Long-term inflammation
- Vision impairment
Corneal abrasions can become serious if left untreated. They often heal on their own, but in more severe cases, prescription creams or bandage contact lenses may be needed for more efficient treatment. In cases of vision impairment from Dry Eye Syndrome, we can help.
These long-term effects of Dry Eye can negatively impact your life. Sensitivity to light and difficulty driving are 2 primary examples of everyday tasks that can become restricted with severe Dry Eye Syndrome. This leads to a lower quality of life.
If you suffer from Dry Eye and are ready for a solution to your painful symptoms, contact Dr. Heather Miller and the staff at Bright Eyes Vision. We are here to help you experience better vision today.