What is Dry Eye Syndrome?
Dry eye syndrome is a common eye problem. In fact, it is estimated that more than 10 million people in the United States alone suffer from dry eye syndrome. A person who has dry eye syndrome generally has a problem with the quantity or quality of the tear film which is responsible for properly lubricating the eyes.
The production of tears is an amazingly complex process. A tear actually consists of 3 separate layers and each layer has a purpose. There is a mucous layer, which coats the eye and acts somewhat like an adhesive. In the middle of a tear is an aqueous layer and it’s responsible for delivering nutrients and oxygen to the cornea. Consisting primarily of water, this layer also has a bit of salt, which is why tears taste salty. The outer layer of the tear, the lipid, is oily and its job is to seal in the moisture so it does not evaporate. Tiny glands surrounding the eyes produce the ingredients needed for the various layers of tear, and excess tear fluids drain into tiny ducts.
Symptoms of Dry Eye Syndrome
Eye irritation is the most notable symptom of dry eyes. Eyes may itch, burn and become red. It doesn’t seem possible, but excessive tearing is also a symptom of dry eyes. That’s because the eyes produce tears in response to many conditions including protecting eyes from injury.
Who is at risk?
Anyone is at risk of developing dry eye syndrome, but the majority of complaints arise from the elderly. As people age, the body’s production of oil begins to slow. As oil production diminishes, less oil is available for the outer layer of tears. With less oil, the moisture produced by the middle layer cannot be properly sealed and it therefore evaporates more quickly, leading to the dry spots on the cornea known as dry eye syndrome.
Older women are more at risk than men. Hormonal changes during menopause are primary culprits. Smokers are at higher risk, too. Many environmental conditions increase the occurrence of dry eyes including air conditioning, hot, dry climates, wind and higher altitudes. People who read a lot or work at a computer all day complain more of dry eyes because they tend not to blink as much.
Those who take certain medicines, who suffer from a deficiency of vitamin A or who have been diagnosed with certain diseases including Parkinson’s disease tend to have dry eyes.
Most individuals know whether they have dry eyes, but an eye doctor should confirm this eye problem. Detection takes place using special eye drops that help the eye doctor gauge tear production and associated rates of evaporation.
Artificial tear drops placed regularly into the affected eye is the most common form of dry eye treatment. Collagen or silicon plugs can be inserted into the tear drains to keep tears from draining. Drinking plenty of water helps, too, as it keeps the body hydrated. Avoiding eye rubbing and blinking more frequently also help alleviate dry eye syndrome.