Dry Eyes - Causes, Symptoms & Treatments

What is dry eye?

Dry eye happens in the absence of sufficient tears or when the components of the tears are imbalanced. Tears bathe the eyes, keeping them free of dust and debris and protecting them from bacteria.  In the absence of good quality tears, dry eye can cause pain or blurred vision and could lead to ulcers and/or scars on the cornea.  The cornea also acts as a protective barrier for the eye, but is primarily responsible for eye focus. The cornea doesn’t have blood vessels and completely relies on tears to nourish and protect it. Permanent damage and loss of vision is unusual but shouldn’t be ruled out. 

Who is at risk?

Dry eye is common in people over 50 and twice as likely in post-menopausal women who may be especially prone to damage of the cornea. It can also be a side-effect of certain medications or due to hormonal changes such as pregnancy or replacement therapies. Dry eye may be temporary after LASIK surgery, a result of infrequent blinking while starting at a computer screen or long-term wearing of contact lenses.

Symptoms of dry eye

Occasional irritation of the eyes can be caused by dust, pollen and allergies, but chronic irritation can be a sign of a bigger problem.  Consult your eyecare professional if you experience some or all of these symptoms frequently:

  • Stinging, burning or the sensation of having “something” in your eye
  • Periods of excessive tears followed by lack of tears
  • Stringy discharge
  • Discomfort while wearing contacts
  • Episodic blurred vision
  • Inability to use the computer or read a book for a sustained period
Diagnosis and treatment

The cause of your dry eye must be determined prior to prescribing a course of action. An underlying disease may need treating or you may need a change in your prescription medication. You may need to give your contact lenses a rest or wear sunglasses as a protective measure.  It may be as simple as installing humidifier in your home or resting your eyes during the work day.

Your eyecare professional may recommend over-the-counter products for temporary relief or may prescribe an anti-inflammatory medication to increase tear production and mitigate corneal damage. In extreme cases, a minor procedure can either plug or close drainage holes from the eye to the nose to keep tears on the eye longer.

If symptoms persist or if you are concerned about your vision and the health of your eyes, make sure to book regular visits with an Optometrist.