By Joy Pape, FNP-C CDE CILC
Dry eye is a common chronic disease, or condition, seen most often in older adults. The medical term for dry eye is keratoconjunctivitis sicca. It occurs when there are not enough “quality” tears to lubricate and nourish your eyes.
Tears are important for the health of the front of your eyes as well as clear vision. When all is working well, every time you blink your eyes, tears spread across the front surface of your eyes, known as the cornea. These tears provide lubrication, reduce your risk of eye infections, wash away foreign matter and keep the surface of your eyes smooth and clear. Excess tears flow into small drainage ducts (tubes) at the inner corners of your eyelids, then drain to the back of your nose. When tear production or drainage is not in balance, dry eye can occur.
People with dry eyes either don’t produce enough tears or their tears are of a poor quality.
Not enough tears. Tears are produced by several glands in and around your eyelids. Production tends to decrease with age, various conditions and/or as a side effect of certain medicines. Environmental conditions such as wind and dry climate can decrease tear volume due to tear evaporation. When the normal amount of tear production decreases or the evaporation of tears happens too quickly, dry eye symptoms can develop.
Poor quality of tears. Tears are composed of three layers: oil, water, and mucus. These all need to be in balance to keep the tears from evaporating too quickly and to spread tears evenly over the surface of your eyes.
Symptoms of dry eye vary from person to person, but generally consist of: irritated, gritty, scratching or burning eyes; a feeling of something in your eyes; excess watering; and/or blurred vision. Advanced dry eye may damage the front surface of your eyes and impair your vision.
Treatment of dry eye aims to maintain the normal amount of tears to minimize dryness and discomfort and maintain your eye health. This can be done with your eye care specialist and some simple home care tips.
Medical treatment consists of adding preservative-free artificial tears, conserving tears, increasing tear production, and treating any eyelid or eye surface inflammation.
Simple home care tips consist of blinking often, increasing the humidity of your environment, wearing sunglasses, avoiding dehydration, and using nutritional supplements recommended by your eye care specialist.
Most importantly, if you have or think you have dry eye, see your eye care specialist. You’ll be glad you did.
This information has been adapted from the American Optometric Association section on “Dry Eye” (bit.ly/2ptIzgx).
Joy Pape is an internationally known board certified Family Nurse Practitioner, author, writer, and presenter. She believes that every person is an individual and deserves personalized medical, integrative care, and hope for a healthy and full life. She can be reached at (212) 933-1756 and firstname.lastname@example.org.