The eye has a tear film which coats the outer layer, this tear film is very important for the lubrication and comfort of the eye as well as for the clarity of vision. As we age, this protective tear film diminishes and leaves the eye more exposed to the drying effects of the air, wind, and dust. In many people, the dryness becomes worse in the afternoons and evenings.
Dry eye is not caused by a lack of tear production. In fact, during dry eye, the eye can still make so many tears that many patients complain of wet eyes and tearing with this malady. That’s because the dryness causes the eye to produce more tears in an effort to replace the tear film. Dry eye is probably the most common problem seen in the eye doctor’s office.
Dry eye symptoms include burning, stinging and/or a gritty sensation which may come and go depending on many factors. Itching, tearing and light sensitivity may also occur. Occasionally long strings of mucus can be stretched from a dry eye.
Blinking is very important for the maintenance of the tear film. When performing such activities as reading or working on a computer, we blink less frequently, this tends to aggravate the symptoms of dry eyes. Sometimes environmental factors can also aggravate dry eye symptoms. Dry weather, either in hot or cold temperatures, robs the eye of needed lubricants. Cigarette smoke, fumes, dust and airborne particles are also common irritants. In many patients, this condition is not associated with systemic disease.
This condition is not curable, so treatment is an ongoing project. Usually, artificial tears are available over-the-counter and help tp soothe the eyes and give temporary relief. These artificial tears work for only an hour or two at best and must be repeated at frequent intervals. Ointments last longer, but they blur vision and are most effective at night.
One of the newer techniques to treat dry eye include plugs which block the tear duct. These plugs can be placed in the two tear ducts, top, and bottom, in both eyes or in only the lower ducts. Some test plugs are also available which dissolve a few days after insertion. If the dry eye symptoms disappear when the temporary plugs are inserted, then permanent plugs should be considered as a treatment option.