Your eyes need tears to stay healthy. Tears flush any dust or particles out of the eye and keep the eyes moist and comfortable. They also contain enzymes that eliminate bacteria that can be found in the eye.
When the eyes have insufficient tears, symptoms can be present such as perpetual feelings of dryness, burning, scratchiness or the feeling of a foreign body in your eye. To the surprise of many, sometimes dry eyes can cause watery eyes if the eyes over-stimulate tear production to make up for dryness.
Dry eye syndrome can be a result of a several factors. The first factor is age as most individuals that suffer from dry eyes are adults, especially women during menopause. Reduction in tear production is also a result of several medications including antihistamines, antidepressants, blood pressure pills as well as others. Environmental conditions that are dry, or dry heat or air circulation are also known to cause or worsen dry eyes. In addition, certain systemic diseases or problems with producing tears, prolonged computer use or contact lens usage can contribute to dry eyes.
The preferred treatment option is typically lubricating eye drops which often work to make up for the lack of natural tears. It’s recommended to consult with your eye doctor to know which eye drops to buy and how to use them. If non-prescription artificial tears don’t help your doctor might prescribe prescription drops that stimulate tear production.
In more severe cases, your eye care professional might recommend Lacrisert, an insert placed inside the eyelid that periodically lets out lubricants during the day. Another option is punctual plugs which help the eye maintain moisture by reducing the let down of tears. Some eye doctors may discuss a few ways for you to adapt your environment and your diet to lessen the symptoms as well.
For most individuals, dry eye syndrome will not harm your eyes permanently but can be a discomfort. However, severe cases increase the risk of infection so it is advised to speak to your eye doctor.
Particularly during the winter, it is important to make sure to protect your eyes from dryness, biting winds and particles. Using sunglasses when going outdoors, and making use of a humidifier indoors to combat dry heat are ways to reduce exposure and dryness.
It’s not necessary to live with dry, itchy, burning eyes - schedule a visit to your optometrist right away!