Dry eye disease, also referred to as dry eye syndrome, is the medical diagnosis for the umbrella term “dry eyes,” which refers more to the symptoms than an underlying issue. There are multiple subtypes of dry eye disease, and each is treated differently. Only a medical professional can determine what causes dry eye in an individual and the best way to manage it, as the cause may inevitably be an underlying medical condition and not solely from the surface of the eye.
The eye is coated in what is called the tear film, which is spread over your eye every time you blink. The tear film is made up of 3 layers: an oil layer, a water layer, and a mucus layer, all of which must be balanced for a comfortable sensation over the eye. When any one of these layers is interrupted, the tear film is unable to adequately perform its job, which can lead to dry eye. There are two main types of dry eye: aqueous deficiency and evaporative dry eye.
In aqueous deficiency dry eye, the lacrimal gland fails to produce enough aqueous, the water layer of the tear film. When not enough aqueous is produced, the tear film is unable to adequately keep the eyes moist. Aqueous deficiency dry eye often occurs as a result of age, certain systemic diseases, and taking certain medications.
Evaporative dry eye is the most common type of dry eye. Evaporative dry eye refers to dry eye that results when tears evaporate too quickly. It is often caused by a malfunction involving the oil layer of the tear film due to meibomian gland dysfunction. When the meibomian gland is blocked, not enough oil is produced or secreted. This is common in people who have skin conditions like rosacea.
Evaporative dry eye can be caused or made worse by environmental factors. Wind, dry air, and smoke can all lead tears to evaporate more quickly. People who read a lot or spend a lot of time in front of a computer screen or cellphone may find that they experience dry eye as a result of blinking less often.
Though uncommon, evaporative dry eye can be caused by abnormalities with the eyes or eyelids. Some people do not completely close their eyelids while blinking or sleeping, a condition referred to as lagophthalmos. This can occur due to genetics, aging, eyelid surgery, or other causes.
Because dry eye symptoms can have more than one cause, a proper diagnosis requires comprehensive testing. Typically, an ophthalmologist will examine your eyes, eyelids, and corneas. They may also measure the amount of tears in your eyes and your rate of tear production. The recommended treatment will depend on the underlying cause of dry eye, and you may need to try a few different treatment options or combine treatments to adequately manage your dry eye.
Common treatments for dry eye include:
There are also things you can do at home to reduce severity of symptoms, such as using warm compresses or massaging your eyelids. If these remedies may be beneficial to you, your eye doctor can discuss them with you in detail.
The most important thing to remember with dry eye is that appropriately treating the problem requires an accurate diagnosis. You’ll receive the best care from a dry eye specialist, an ophthalmologist with a background in treating dry eye. If you suspect you may be suffering from dry eye, don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment. Identifying the root of the problem will help you find the best relief from dry eye symptoms.
Dr. Panda is an ophthalmologist at the Marietta Eye Clinic who specializes in dry eye, cataracts, LASIK, and cornea, in addition to offering comprehensive ophthalmic care. Dr. Panda graduated from Cornell University with an undergraduate degree in biological and environmental engineering. He received his medical degree from the State University of New York at Buffalo and completed his residency at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. He completed his fellowship in Cornea and Refractive Surgery from the Wilmer Eye Institute of Johns Hopkins University. He is a member of both the American Academy of Ophthalmology and the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgeons. Read more about Dr. Panda here.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) is the world’s largest association of eye physicians and surgeons. It describes itself as a “global community of 32,000 medical doctors who protect sight and empower lives by setting the standards for ophthalmic education and advocating for our patients and the public.” Its website is a great resource to learn more about how to care for your eyes.
The American Optometric Association (AOA) describes itself as the leading authority on quality care and an advocate for our nation’s health, representing more than 44,000 doctors of optometry, optometric professionals, and optometry students.
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