Dry Eyes Are More Than a Nuisance, and Here’s Why

Dry eyes are a common phenomenon with diverse cases that can be simple or complex. While, in many cases, dry eyes may be a mere nuisance, they can also lead to serious consequences including eye infections, inflammation, abrasions to your cornea, corneal ulcers and even vision loss. Even short of those serious health-related implications, dry eyes can make simple things like reading and driving more difficult and less comfortable.

The phrase “dry eyes” seems simple enough, but we shouldn’t make any assumptions. Dry eyes describe a situation where your eyes aren’t adequately lubricated by your tears. Tears are more important and complex than you may realize. They’re a clear liquid that emanates from your tear ducts. Tears lubricate your eyes, clear irritants from your eyes, and support your immune system.

What are the symptoms of dry eyes?

The symptoms of dry eyes usually affect both eyes. Symptoms may include:

  • A scratching, stinging or burning sensation
  • The feeling as if you have something in your eyes
  • Blurry vision and light sensitivity
  • Problems driving at night
  • Problems wearing contact lenses
  • A stringy mucus affecting your eyes
  • Strange as it may seem, watery eyes as a response to the irritation of your dry eyes

What causes dry eyes?

There are three primary causes of dry eyes. Here is a brief introduction to each main category of cause.

Tear film dysfunction

Tears are made up of three layers that are collectively referred to as the “tear film:” fatty oils, aqueous fluid, and mucus. When there is a proper balance between all those layers, your tears function normally. Imbalance or dysfunction between or amongst those layers can cause dry eyes. Tear film dysfunction is caused by hormone changes, allergies, inflammation of the glands of your eyelids, and autoimmune conditions.

Keratoconjunctivitis sicca

This is a medical condition for the inability of your eyes to produce enough aqueous fluid (essentially water), which is one of the layers in your tear film. With the condition, you’ll simply be unable to produce enough tears to protect your eyes. Keratoconjunctivitis sicca is caused by things as diverse as: age; medical conditions such as Sjogren’s syndrome, allergies, rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid disorders, vitamin deficiency, and thyroid disorders; side effects of common medications, including antihistamines, antidepressants, birth control medication, and hormone replacement therapy; and corneal nerve desensitivity.

Increased tear evaporation

Some people are able to produce adequate aqueous fluid, but may still experience dry eyes. That may be because your tears evaporate at an unusually high rate. Unusually high tear evaporation can be caused by: meibomian gland dysfunction; decreased blinking rate associated with driving, computer use, concentration and even Parkinson’s disease; eyelid problems such as ectropion and entropion; allergies; environmental conditions such as windy, smoky or dry air; and vitamin A deficiency.

Eight tips for preventing dry eyes

  1. Don’t allow air to blow directly into your eyes
  2. Use a humidifier to add moisture to dry air indoors
  3. Block wind and dry air using wraparound sunglasses
  4. When visually concentrating for long periods, take breaks to close your eyes and blink
  5. When in very dry environments or at high altitude, regularly close your eyes a few minutes at a time
  6. When working on a computer screen for a long time, place the screen below your eye level
  7. Quit smoking (or don’t start) and avoid second-hand smoke
  8. Use artificial tears (eye drops) to lubricate your eyes as directed

When should you consider getting dry eye treatment in Calgary? If you’ve had more than brief and intermittent symptoms of dry eyes — such as prolonged or persistent redness, irritation, tiredness, or pain — you should contact a specialist like Seema Eye to arrange dry eye treatment near you. Even if you don’t have persistent symptoms of dry eye, but simply want to consult with experts about eye care in Calgary, reach out to us at any time.