Dry eye is the result of one of two conditions, one is the eye’s inability to produce sufficient tears, the other is the result of poor tear quality.

The Function of Tears

The continuous production and drainage of tears are important to the eye’s health. Tears keep the eye moist, help wounds heal and protect against eye infection. In people with dry eye, the eye produces fewer or lower quality tears and is unable to keep its surface lubricated and comfortable.

The tear film consists of three layers:

  1. Outer, oily (lipid) layer that keeps tears from evaporating too quickly and helps tears remain on the eye
  2. Middle (aqueous) layer that nourishes the cornea and conjunctiva
  3. Bottom (mucin) layer that helps to spread the aqueous layer across the eye to ensure that the eye remains wet

As we age, the eyes usually produce fewer tears. Also, in some cases, the lipid and mucin layers produced by the eyes are of such poor quality that tears cannot remain in the eye long enough to keep the eye sufficiently lubricated.

Symptoms of Dry Eye Disease

Surprisingly, some people with dry eye may have tears that run down their cheeks. This is because the eye may be producing less of the lipid and mucin layers of the tear film which help keep tears in the eye. When this happens, tears do not stay in the eye long enough to thoroughly moisten it.

Other symptoms can include:

  • Scratchy or sandy feeling as if something is in the eye
  • Stinging or burning of the eye
  • Episodes of excess tearing that follow periods of very dry sensation
  • Stringy discharge from the eye
  • Pain
  • Redness
  • Heaviness of the eyelids
  • Blurred, changing or decreased vision (loss of vision is uncommon)

Causes of Dry Eye Disease

Dry eye can occur in climates with dry air as well as with the use of some drugs, including antihistamines, nasal decongestants, tranquilizers and anti-depressant drugs. Dry eye is more common in women, especially after menopause. People with dry eye should let their health care providers know all the medications they are taking, since some of them may intensify dry eye symptoms.

People with connective tissue diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, can also develop dry eye. It is important to note that dry eye is sometimes a symptom of Sjögren’s syndrome, a disease that attacks the body’s lubricating glands such as the tear and salivary glands. A complete physical examination may diagnose any underlying diseases.

Dry Eye Disease Treatments

  • Artificial tears, which lubricate the eye, are the principal treatment for dry eye. They are available over-the-counter without a prescription.
  • Sterile ointments are sometimes used at night to help prevent the eye from drying.
  • Using humidifiers, wearing wrap-around glasses when outdoors and avoiding windy and dry conditions may bring relief.
  • In severe cases of dry eye, temporary or permanent closure of the tear drain (small openings at the inner corner of the eyelids where tears drain from the eye) may be helpful.
  • Some people may find relief by supplementing their diets with omega-3 fatty acids, which are found naturally in foods like oily fish (salmon, sardines, anchovies) and flax seeds. Ask your ophthalmologist before you incorporate oral supplements of omega-3 fatty acids into your dry eye treatment regimen. Visit www.alphaeon.com/prn to order PRN Dry Eye Omega Benefits.

If these methods fail, your ophthalmologist may suggest the use of a prescription medication. One such medication, cyclosporine (Restasis®), works by stimulating tear production and reducing inflammation. Steroid eye drops may also be used, but are generally not recommended for long-term treatment.