Dry eye affects millions of Americans. Dry eye is caused by one of two conditions: either the eye cannot produce sufficient tears or the eye feels dry due to poor tear quality. While there is no cure for dry eye, there are dry eye treatments that can provide relief. Your Clarus vision specialist can help you choose the right dry eye treatment for you.

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 Treatments

  • Artificial tears are the most common dry eye treatment. Artificial tears lubricate the eye and help maintain moisture on the outer surface of the eye. They are available over the counter without a prescription and can be used throughout the day.
  • Sterile ointments can be used while you sleep to help prevent the eye from drying. Because ointments are thicker, this type of dry eye treatment is not ideal for all-day use.
  • Some dry eye treatments focus on environment and exposure. Using humidifiers, wearing wrap-around glasses when outdoors, and avoiding windy and dry conditions may bring relief.
  • In special cases, your eye doctor may recommend temporary or permanent closure of the tear drain. The tear drain is the small opening at the inner corner of the eyelids where tears drain from the eye. This type of dry eye treatment may be helpful for severe cases of dry eye.
  • 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 alphaeon.com/prn to order PRN Dry Eye Omega Benefits. 
  • If these dry eye treatments fail, your ophthalmologist may suggest 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 dry eye treatment.