Dry Eye is a very common symptom of a large number of patients of the current generation.
It is caused by multiple factors, the commonest being the increasing use of digital devices e.g. mobile phones, computers, tablets etc.
How do I know if I have dry eyes?
The symptoms vary from patient to patient. Often, patients actually feel the dryness of the eyes. Some people complain of pricking sensation, irritation, watering, burning, dull pain or dragging pull on the eyes, and heaviness.
My eyes are watering but my eye specialist says I have dry eyes.
Often when your eyes are dry, they reflexly produce watering as a defence mechanism.
Occasionally patients may complain of whitish discharge/ clumpy discharge accumulated at the corners of the eye. This is the mucous being produced by the eye in response to dryness.
Sometimes dry eyes is accompanied by allergy in the eyes. Such people also may have watery eyes.
What do tears contain?
The tear film is made up of 2 main layers- 1 is the watery layer, which actually consists of predominantly water content mixed with electrolytes and other defence proteins, and lies in contact with the front surface of the eye. This water content is produced by the tear glands of the eye called Lacrimal glands. And over that is a layer of oil which is produced by oil glands of the eyelids called Meibomian Glands. These glands produce oily secretions which prevent the evaporation of the water content of the tears.
How does Dry eye occur?
Based on what layer is involved, there are 2 main types of dry eyes.
One in which there is actually a reduction in the production of tears. This reduction in tear production is caused by damage to the lacrimal gland that produces tears. This can occur in increased age, the effect of some drugs e.g. post-chemotherapy or after radiation therapy, and most commonly is associated with Autoimmune disorders like Rheumatoid Arthritis.
The second type is called Evaporative Dry Eye. This has a normal production of tears, but quick evaporation because of the inadequate oily layer. This is caused because of damage to Meibomian Glands. This is the COMMONEST type of dry eye. The Meibomian Glands can get stressed due to exposure to environmental dust and pollution, or getting infected or their opening on the lids getting blocked.
Can dry eyes be treated?
Yes, it can be treated, but the response depends on what type of eye dryness you have and how severe it is.
If you have dryness due to reduced tear production, this usually requires long term or permanent treatment in the form of eye drops.
If you have infected or stressed oil glands, they can be treated with warm compresses and antibiotic
ointment to treat the infected lid glands. Just a short term treatment for this may produce a significant improvement.