Are you having very dry, irritating or gritty eyes? You may have dry eye syndrome which is very common and affects people of all ages. It has a higher occurrence rate in countries which are windy, dry or dusty.Dry Eye Syndrome is a condition whereby the lacrimal system or in layman terms the tear producing system is malfunctioning. This could either be that it isn’t producing enough aqueous tears or the lipid layer over the tear film produced by meibomian glands is insufficient.If the dry-eye is primarily because the lacrimal gland isn’t producing enough tears, this could mean several things.
1. You either have Sjogren’s Syndrome which is an autoimmune disease meaning that your antibodies in your body are attacking your lacrimal and salivary glands causing a decrease in secretions so you are having less tears and thus your eyes feel dry and gritty.
2. If you are over the age of 45, the most likely cause of your dry eye is menopause. This is because menopause reduces circulating androgen (oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone) levels in your body which is believed to contribute to less tear and lipid production resulting in both aqueous and evaporative forms of dry eye.
3. Other causes of aqueous dry eye could be high doses of oral diuretics, oral blocking H1 antihistamine (allergy drugs), anti-cholinergic medications (eg: anti-depressants), anti-psychotic drugs, beta blockers, benzodiazepines and so forth.
If the form of dry eye is primarily evaporative, this simply means that there is less or no lipid layer over the aqueous part of the tear film thus it keeps drying off at a fast rate. This could be associated with conditions such as anterior or posterior blepharitis, skin disorders especially acne rosacea or meibomian gland dysfunction.
As well as lubricating the eyes tears are also automatically produced as a reflex to stimuli such as foreign objects like dust or sand as well as being triggered by emotions which make us cry. However, people with dry eye syndrome still have irritation because this automatic reflex action does little to actually soothe the eyes.
Other causes of dry eye syndrome include age, which is part of the natural aging process as less oils is produced. Women who have dry skin are more prone to the syndrome than men. This lack of oil affects the tear film and as such there is a tendency for the film to evaporate much faster leaving dry areas on the cornea.
Other factors such as very windy or hot climates, air-conditioning and high altitudes can have a marked affect on the tear film. Those who work for long hours on a computer without stopping for regular breaks or have a tendency to stare too much whilst watching television or reading may also be prone to the syndrome. Cigarette smoke is another major contributor to dry eye syndrome.
People who wear contact lens may also be troubled by dry eyes as the contact lens absorbs the tear film, which causes proteins to build up on the surface of the lens. Advice from an optometrist should be sought before deciding to wear contact lens as people with dry eyes may not have the option of being able to wear contact lens as they can harm the eyes.
Other existing medical conditions can be the causes of dry eyes such as Parkinson’s disease, some thyroid conditions. a deficiency in vitamin A and hormonal changes for women entering the menopause may also experience dry eye syndrome.
The severity of this condition can vary from being mild whereby you just need eye drops, eye ointments or gels to relieve irritation or can be very severe causing other areas of your eyes to be affected. For example: the conjunctiva which is normally white will become very red, your cornea may display many small dots called Punctate epitheliopathy (SPK), minimal or absent tear meniscus and so forth. If this occurs, you should visit your nearest optometrist for treatment or referral.
However, here are just a few easy ways to ease or help relieve you from having mild cases of dry eyes.
1. Warm compresses which simply means place a face towel dipped in warm water over your eyes for 5 minutes two times a day for a week or longer. This helps melt the hard dried lipid if the cause of dry eye is the evaporative form
2. Lid scrubs whereby you soap your lashes with mild baby shampoo or soap. This helps open up blocked lipid glands. Also gentle lid massages are good too.
3. Wear sunglasses to prevent the wind from blowing into your eyes and drying them out. Face away all electrical fans or air-condition positioned directly at your face.