Many people attend an eye examination complaining of watery eyes, only to be told at the end of the appointment that their eyes are actually dry!
Symptoms of dry eye include many of the following:
- a sandy or gritty feeling
- an itching or burning sensation
- intermittent blurry vision
- sore eyes
- uncomfortable/painful eyes
- watery eyes.
What are dry eyes?
The normal tear film which helps protect the eye from dust, germs, etc is made up of 3 layers:
- a sticky (mucous) layer against the eye
- a watery (aqueous) layer in the middle
- an oily (lipid) layer on the outside which prevents evaporation of the watery layer.
If any one of these layers is compromised, it can result in a dry eye.
The eye produces extra watery tears when something goes into or irritates the eye such as when chopping onions, touching your eye after chopping chillies or when you cry. Dry eye arises when not enough tears are produced or they are of poor quality and evaporate too quickly, causing the front of the eye to become dry and irritated.
The eyes often respond by producing the watery type of tears but these only help for a short time, leaving the eye uncomfortable and gritty. If the oily layer is disrupted then the watery layer evaporates more quickly, which again causes the eye to become dry and irritated.
What are the main causes of dry eyes?
Causes of dry eye include the following:
- advancing age
- hormonal changes during pregnancy and the menopause
- auto-immune disorders
- certain medications
- seasonal allergies
- dry/windy/smoky environments – even in winter.
Also, long periods spent concentrating on tasks such as reading, driving or looking at a computer screen can cause dry eye symptoms. When concentrating, the frequency of blinking drops so the tears dry up and the eye gets dry.
How can you get rid of dry eyes?
Symptoms of dry eye can be relieved by blinking more, especially when using a VDU screen, drinking plenty of water and including omega 3 rich foods in the diet (e.g. oily fish) and making the home or office environment more humid.
However, dry eye is often a long term condition and therefore will need ongoing treatment. There are a number of different types of drops, gels and ointments that can help make the eyes feel more comfortable. The best ones are preservative free, so they are gentle on the eye and ones that contain sodium hyaluronate are known to be very effective in treating the condition.