Dry eye is a common condition in which there is insufficient tears to lubricate and nourish the eye. Tears are important for maintaining the health of the front surface of the eye and for providing clear vision. People with dry eyes are unable to produce adequate tears or have a poor quality of tears. Dry eye is uncomfortable especially when your eyes sting or burn. You may experience dry eyes in an air-conditioned room, on an airplane, while riding a bike or after continuously looking at a computer screen.
What are the causes of dry eyes?
Mostly, dry eyes are seen in people over the age of 65. The development of dry eyes can have many causes including:
- Age: Dry eye is a natural phenomenon which develops as a person ages. A majority of people over age 65 experience some symptoms of dry eyes.
- Gender: Women are more likely to develop dry eyes due to hormonal changes caused by pregnancy, the use of oral contraceptives, and menopause.
- Medications: Some medicines such as antihistamines, decongestants, blood pressure medications and antidepressants, can reduce the amount of tears produced in the eyes.
- Medical conditions: People suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes and thyroid problems are likelier to have signs of dry eyes. Additionally, problems with inflammation of the eyelids, inflammation of the surfaces of the eye, or the inward or outward turning of eyelids can cause dry eyes to develop.
- Environmental factors: Increased exposure to smoke, wind and dry climates can increase tear evaporation resulting in dry eye symptoms. Failure to blink regularly can also play a part in drying of the eyes.
Signs and symptoms of dry eyes, which normally affect both the eyes include:
- A stinging, burning or scratchy sensation in your eyes
- Stringy mucus in or around your eyes
- Increased eye irritation from smoke or wind
- Eye fatigue
- Sensitivity to light
- Eye redness
- A sensation of having something in your eyes
- Difficulty wearing contact lenses
- Periods of excessive tearing
- Blurred vision
Being a chronic condition, your ophthalmologist can prescribe treatment to keep your eyes healthy, more comfortable, and prevent your vision from being affected. Following are some of the treatment options:
There are certain steps you can take to reduce symptoms of dry eyes:
- Adding tears: Non-severe cases of dry eyes can easily be managed using over-the-counter artificial tear solutions. These can be used regularly. Your ophthalmologist may suggest preservative-free artificial tear solutions because they contain fewer additives that could further irritate the eyes.
- Conserving tears: Another way to reduce the symptoms of dry eyes is to keep natural tears in the eyes longer. This can be done by blocking the tear ducts through which the tears normally drain. The tear ducts can be blocked with tiny silicone or gel-like plugs that can be removed, if needed. A surgical procedure to permanently close tear ducts  is also an option.
- Increasing tear production: Prescription eye drops that help to increase production of tears can be recommended by your ophthalmologist, along with addition of omega-3 fatty acid as nutritional supplements.
- Remembering to blink regularly when reading or staring at a computer screen for long periods of time.
- Increasing the level of humidity in the air at work and at home. At home, use a room fan to push the damp air out into the other rooms of your home. It is best to use humidifiers at workplace to increase humidity.
- Do not forget to wear good quality sunglasses to protect your eyes from UV rays of Sun.