Dry Eye is a reduction in the ability of your eyes’ natural ability to produce sufficient natural tears. Tears serve to lubricate the eye and are produced around the clock. When insufficient moisture is produced, stinging, burning, scratchiness and other symptoms are experienced and may be referred to as Dry Eye. Many people will experience Dry Eye at some point in their lives. When we blink, tears form a film that spreads over the eye, making the surface smooth, optically clear and enabling good vision. There are three layers in the thin film of tears: an oily layer, a watery layer and a layer of mucus, each with specific function.
Small glands at the edge of the eyelid called meibomian glands produce the outermost oily layer. Its main purpose is to smooth the tear surface and reduce evaporation.
The middle watery layer is produced by small glands scattered through the conjunctiva, the delicate membrane lining the inside of the eyelid, and by the large lacrimal or tear glands. This layer cleanses the eye and washes away foreign particles or irritants.
The innermost layer consists of mucus that allows the watery layer to spread evenly over the surface of the eye. Without mucus, tears would not adhere to the eye.
Dry Eye is often caused by environmental factors such as indoor heating or air conditioning, it can be caused by occupational factors such as prolonged computer use. Dry Eye is caused when the tear gland produces insufficient tears. This can happen as part of the normal aging process but may not always be noticed because the effect of Dry Eye tends to balance another age-related change; poor tear drainage. Dry Eye is also more common among women.
The following are some precautions you can take to prevent or minimize Dry Eye:
- Avoid drafts from heating or air conditioning vents, especially in cars or airplanes.
- Take frequent breaks to relieve eye strain during periods of prolonged computer use.
- Remove your contact lenses and keep them especially clean when your eyes are feeling dry.
- After LASIK surgery, use artificial tears to soothe and comfort your eyes during recovery.
- Be aware that certain over the counter medications and prescription drugs can contribute to Dry Eye.
- Know that natural changes in tear production and composition often occur due to age or disease.