The Basics of Dry Eye Syndrome

Dry eye syndrome is a common condition of the eyes. It occurs when your eyes don’t produce enough tears, or when they don’t produce the right kind of tears.

Your tears are made up of three layers: an oily layer on the outside, a watery layer in the middle and an inner mucus layer. Together, these layers are called the “tear film;” it helps keep the surface of your eyes smooth, clear and protected from infection. Here’s how it works:

  • The oily layer makes the tear surface smooth and keeps tears from drying up too quickly. It’s made in the meibomian glands.
  • The watery layer cleans the eyes and makes up most of what we see as tears. This layer comes from the lacrimal glands in the eyelids.
  • The mucous layer helps spread the water layer over the surface of the eyes. Without mucus, the water wouldn’t stick to the eyes. Mucus is made in the conjunctiva, the clear tissue covering the white of your eyes and the inside of your eyelids.

A problem with any of the layers within your tear film can cause dry eye. For instance, the oily layer meibomian glands where the oily layer is created may become blocked. Or, sometimes our eyes don’t make enough tears. This can be caused by hormonal changes as we age. Other causes of dry eye include:

  • Certain diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid disease, lupus, vitamin A deficiency
  • Entropion (when eyelids turn in)
  • Ectropion (when eyelids turn outward)
  • Having refractive eye surgery like LASIK
  • Looking at a computer screen too long
  • Reading, driving and other activities that reduce blinking
  • Being in smoke, wind, high altitudes or other dry climates
  • Taking certain medicines such as beta-blockers, sleeping pills, antihistamines, diuretics, anxiety medications, heartburn and antidepressant medications

There are several steps you can take to treat dry eye syndrome, as well as some everyday best practices for avoiding environments that may cause dry eyes. First, have an eye exam. Your eye doctor will look at your eyelids and the surface of your eyes. To test for dry eyes, your doctor may measure the quality or thickness of your tears or measure how quickly your eyes produce tears. If it’s determined that you do have dry eye syndrome, your eye doctor will suggest treatments based on the cause and severity of your condition. This may be artificial tears (over-the-counter eye drops), increasing your tears with prescription eye drops, fish oils, blocking your tear ducts, or simply treating your eyes with home remedies such as warm compresses and massaging your eyelids.

dry eye basics

But the first step to treating your dry eyes is always the same: make an appointment with your doctor so we can look at your eyes and give you the right diagnosis and personalized treatment.

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