What is Dry Eye?
Dry eye is a condition in which the eyes are – as the name suggests – too dry. It can be a temporary or a chronic condition.
Symptoms of this condition include a sense of unwanted dryness, redness, scratchiness, blurry vision, the feeling of foreign objects in the eye, and similar discomforts. The level of discomfort ranges from mild to severe.
Temporary dry eye is usually caused by specific activities, such as being in a windy place, staring at a screen for too many hours (especially if you don’t blink enough), or even being in the presence of air conditioning. Sporting activities like bike riding or water skiing can also cause enough air to be blown into the eyes to dry them out.
Chronic dry eye, on the other hand, persists even when aggravating factors are avoided. It is often caused by inflammation, especially of the meibomian glands that line the eyelids. These glands produce an oily fluid layer that sits on top of the other layers of your tears, and helps prevent inflammation.
Normal tears are actually composed of three layers, each of which serves a different purpose. The mucin layer sits closest to the eye, and provides the cornea with nourishment. It also helps the next layer, the watery layer, spread evenly across the eye so it can lubricate the entire eyeball.
The watery layer washes away dirt particles and helps prevent infection. It is also responsible for most of the direct lubrication of the eyeball.
The oily layer is lipid-based, and provides a seal over the other two layers. Its main purpose is to keep the other layers from evaporating too quickly. Often, dry eye is caused by problems with this layer.
Sometimes, the eyes try to compensate for a lack of sufficient lubrication by producing more of the watery layer of tears. This leads to a situation in which the eye is still not properly lubricated, but is so “wet” that it is always watery. Unfortunately, this typically makes symptoms worse because the extra water washes away the remaining mucin and oily layers.
Treatment Options for Dry Eyes
Several factors are involved in choosing the best treatment options for dry eyes. Therefore, you and your eye doctor should consider things like:
- How long you have had the condition
- How frequently symptoms appear
- Whether or not your dry eye is associated with specific activities
- Any prior treatments attempted, and how well they worked
Infrequent or Mild Symptoms
If you only have infrequent symptoms, there is a higher chance that your dry eyes are caused by specific activities or seasonal allergies. In these cases, lifestyle modification and over-the-counter eye drops will often be enough to alleviate the problem. For allergies, medications may be prescribed to reduce allergic inflammation.
Frequent or Severe Symptoms
If your eyes have been dry for a long time, the symptoms are severs, or it isn’t feasible to avoid whatever irritates them, it’s better to go for a more robust treatment. These treatments are provided by optometrists and other eye doctors, and are more powerful than over-the-counter options.
Prescription eye drops are often the first option that will be tried, but if they don’t work, the doctor will have plenty of other methods to either combine with the drops or use instead.
Some doctors advocate a surgical solution in which the tear ducts are blocked. This can be done with temporary “punctal plugs,” or a more permanent plug can be fashioned. Here, the goal is to keep tears in the eyes longer.
A good non-invasive solution is IPL, or Intense Pulsed Light. IPL therapy for dry eyes addresses problems with the production of the oily layer of tears, thereby helping to prevent evaporation of the tear layers. With it, intense light is aimed at the edges of the eyelids to stimulate the meibomian glands. The eyelids may also be massaged to further increase oil production.
For IPL or other dry eye treatments, call Garibaldi Eye Care in Squamish. They will be glad to evaluate you and suggest the best treatments.