Dry eye is an extremely common condition that affects nearly everyone at some point in their lives. It occurs when there is inadequate lubrication to your eyes, resulting in inflammation and even damage to the ocular surface. It can be associated with decreased tear production or poor quality tears.
Tears are made up of a mixture of fluid, oil, and mucus, as well as dissolved salts and other important chemicals. Every time you blink, a film of this tear mixture is spread over the eye’s surface, which keeps the eye hydrated, and makes clear vision possible. The oil layer comes from the Meibomian glands in the eyelid, and forms the smooth outermost surface of the tear film while helping to reduce the evaporation of tears. The watery layer is the main middle layer and helps to clear any debris and cleanses the eye. The innermost layer is composed of mucous produced by the conjunctiva, allowing the watery layer to spread evenly across the eye.
One cause of dry eye is due to changes in hormone levels, which is why women are more likely to be affected. Dry eye also is more likely to occur as we age and the eyes experience a decrease in tear production. Additionally, dry eye symptoms can occur as a side effect to certain medications such as diuretics, anti-anxiety medication, sleep medication, and antihistamines.
If it is determined that you have dry eye, there are several treatment options available such as over-the-counter (OTC) artificial tears, prescription eye drops, punctal plugs to block the tear drainage ducts thereby keeping tears on the eye longer, dietary supplementation, and minimizing common environmental stressors to the tear film.