Dry eye syndrome, or simply dry eye, is caused by a prolonged lack of adequate lubrication on the surface of the eye and is a very common reason for visits to the eye doctor. Without adequate moisture, eyes become red and irritated and often cause a feeling of scratchiness. Dry eye syndrome affects nearly twice as many women as men.
Symptoms of Dry Eye
Dry eye symptoms can vary from subtle but constant eye irritation to significant inflammation and even scarring on the front surface of the eye. Dry eyes can cause inflammation and even permanent damage to the surface of the eye, so if you have symptoms of dry eye, see your eye doctor right away. Other symptoms include:
- A burning sensation
- Sore eyes
- Itchy eyes
- Aching sensation
- Dry sensation
- Red eyes
- Sensitivity to light
- Heavy eyes
- Blurred vision
- Tired eyes
You may also have the sensation that you have grit or some other foreign object in your eye. Watery eyes can also be a symptom of dry eye syndrome. Dryness on the surface of the eye will sometimes over-stimulate the production of tears as a counter measure but the tearing doesn’t stay on the eye long enough to correct the condition.
Elements of Tears
Tears bathe the surface of your eyes to keep them moist and wash away dust, debris and microorganisms that could damage the cornea and lead to an eye infection. Normal tear film consists of three important elements as follows:
- An oily element (lipid)
- A watery element (aqueous)
- A mucous-like element (mucin)
Each of these elements is produced by different glands on or near the eye and serve a vital purpose in keeping your eyes healthy. A problem with any of these can result in dry eyes.
Causes of Dry Eye Syndrome
Dry eye syndrome can be caused by a number of things, including:
- Prolonged computer use. When working on a computer or other digital device, we tend to blink less fully and less frequently and this lead to greater tear evaporation and an increased risk for dry eyes.
- Wearing contact lenses. It’s difficult to determine to what extent contact lens wear contributes to dry eye, but dry eye discomfort is one of the main reasons that people stop wearing contacts.
- While dry eye syndrome can happen at any age, it becomes more common later in life, especially after age 50.
- Post-menopausal women have a greater risk of developing dry eyes than men of the same age.
- Indoor environment. Tear evaporation can be accelerated by air conditioning, ceiling fans and forced air heating systems.
- Outdoor environment. The risk of dry eye is increased in dry or windy conditions.
- Smoking has been linked to serious eye problems, including dry eye
- Medical conditions. Diabetes, thyroid-associated diseases, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis as just some of the diseases that can contribute to dry eye syndrome.
- Your risk of dry eye symptoms increase with the use of many prescription and non-prescription medicines, including antihistamines, antidepressants, some blood pressure medicines and birth control pills.