Relief is in Sight
“Doctor, my eyes feel dry. They feel gritty, they burn, they get blurry. They’re irritated. Sometimes, they water.” Is this you or someone you know? These are not uncommon complaints heard in our office. These complaints are all part of Dry Eye Syndrome, but just because these symptoms are common, it doesn’t mean that we have to live with the issues. In fact, ignoring the symptoms can lead to serious eye disease.
Normal Tears and Reflex Tears
Before we can understand Dry Eyes, let’s review and understand normal tears. Normal tears have two main functions – they keep our corneal cells healthy and lubricated, and they form our primary optical surface so that we can see clearly and consistently. These tears come from glands located in the eyelids. Normal tears are different from Reflex tears. Reflex tears are the tears we get when our eyes become irritated, something gets in our eyes, or we cry for emotional reasons. These tears wash away the irritants, and this is why watery eyes may be the result of the irritation of dry eyes. They don’t stick to the eyes as normal tears do, so they don’t really solve the problem.
Why do we get dry eyes?
Our tears come from glands in the eyelids. One type of glands, called Meibomian glands, secrete thin oil into the tear film which floats to the top of the tears and keeps them from evaporating. It is thought that Meibomian gland dysfunction may be responsible for as much as 90% of dry eye problems. For this reason, some eye doctors refer to Dry Eye Syndrome as Eyelid Inflammation, Blepharitis, Meibomian Gland Disease, or MGD. When our Meibomian glands are not working properly, instead of secreting thin oil, they become plugged with a thicker paste-like substance, which can lead to the glands dying altogether.
Well then, what causes Meibomian glands to malfunction?
One reason may be our modern diet which contains an especially high ratio of Omega-6 fatty acids to Omega-3 fatty acids. Another potential cause is how we use our eyes today: specifically, all the time we spend looking at computers, tablets, and smart phones. When we concentrate, whether using these devices or just reading, we don’t blink as much. Blinking causes Meibomian glands to release some of their oil. Other causes include systemic conditions such as arthritis, diabetes and thyroid disease as well as medications we take such as antihistamines, antidepressants, and estrogens.
How do I know if I have dry eyes or eyelid disease; or how bad it is, if I do?
If you are having any of the symptoms mentioned above – dryness, burning, grittiness, or other irritation – you should schedule an appointment with us or with your eye doctor. You should also schedule an appointment if you or someone else notices that your eyes or eyelids look red or have debris in your eyelashes. If you use any artificial tears but find that you need to use them more than 2-3 times per day, this would also be a reason to contact us.
There are several tests that we use to determine how to treat your dry eye.
- A standardized questionnaire like the Standard Patient Evaluation of Eye Dryness (SPEED) survey or the Ocular Surface Disease Index (OSDI)
- Tear sampling to determine salt concentration
- Tear sampling to determine the presence of inflammatory markers
- Microscopic examination to look at the general appearance of the eyes and eyelids
- Dyes to look for damaged and missing corneal and conjunctival cells
- Tear film break-up time following a blink
- Meibomian gland expression
So, I have a dry eye problem. What should I do to make things better?
Good news! We specialize in Dry Eye and MGD and offer many treatment options that can be tailored to you and your problem.