When you are unable to produce adequate tears, you can develop dry eye. There are a few reasons for inadequate tear production, including increased tear evaporation or an imbalance of the composition of tears. Dry eye is a common condition that affects over 26 million Americans, and this number is expected to increase to 29 million within the next decade (Source: All About Vision).
You probably don’t know this, but your tears keep your eyes moist and lubricated on a daily basis. Made up of water, fatty oils and mucus, tears keep the surface of your eyes smooth and help prevent infection.
There are many causes of dry eye, but some of the most common causes are:
- Age. An estimated five million Americans age 50 and older have clinically significant dry eye syndrome, and dry eyes affect nearly twice as many women as men.
- Medical conditions. Diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, thyroid disorders, or any other inflammatory disorders and vitamin A deficiencies can cause dry eye.
- Medications. Certain medications can be drying to the eyes, such as antihistamines, decongestants, antidepressants, anti-hypertensive drugs, birth control, acne medications, and Parkinson’s drugs.
- Eye surgery. Laser eye surgery and other surgical procedures on the eyes can cause temporary dry eye.
- Weather. Increased wind or smoke or extremely dry air can cause symptoms of dry eye. Winter time environment with indoor forced air heat and extremely low humidity can also irritate the eyes.
- Not blinking. Staring at a computer screen without taking regular breaks can cause eye dryness and irritation.
- Tear gland damage. Inflammation and radiation can decrease tear production.
Depending on the causes of dry eye, there are a variety of treatments that can help manage your condition. Your doctor may be able to make recommendations such as:
- Switching your medication to similar type of drug
- Suggesting dietary changes
- Prescribing a vitamin regimen
- Punctal plug or punctal cautery—procedures that help keep the tears in the eye
- Artificial tears or lubricating drops
- Prescribing medicated eye drops like Restasis or Xidra to treat the cause of dry eye
If you are experiencing common symptoms of dry eye such as burning, itchy, sore eyes, blurred vision, or gritty feeling in your eyes, make an appointment with your doctor. There are treatments available to help bring you comfort and relief (Source: NEI).