Dry Eye

What is Dry Eye?

Simply put, dry eye is the result of not being able to produce enough tears to keep the eye comfortable. Without a film of tears, spread over the eye by a blink, good vision is not possible.

The symptoms include stinging or burning eyes, scratchiness, stringy mucus around the eyes, irritation from smoke or wind, excess tearing or difficulty wearing contact lenses.

Causes

Tear production normally decreases as we age. Although dry eye can occur in men and women, it is more common in women, particularly after menopause. Dry eye can also be associated with arthritis as well as a variety of over-the-counter and prescription medications. Because of this--and the fact that people with dry eye are more prone to the toxic side effects of eye medications--it is important that you tell your doctor the names of all the medications you are taking. This is especially true if you are taking diuretics, betablockers, antihistamines, sleeping pills, pain relievers, medication for "nerves" or even alcohol.

Diagnosis and Treatment

A simple eye examination by an ophthalmologist--a physician who specializes in care of the eye--can usually detect dry eye. Sometimes, tests are performed such as placing filter-paper strips under the lower lids to measure tear production under various conditions.

Available without a prescription, eye drops called artificial tears are sometimes used to moisten the eyes. Preservative-free drops are also available. You can use the tears as often as necessary, from once or twice a day to several times an hour. Solid inserts that gradually release lubricants may also be beneficial to some people.

Another approach is to conserve the tears you do produce. Tears drain out of the eye through a small canal in the nose (which is why your nose runs when you cry). Your ophthalmologist may have the option of closing these canals either temporarily or permanently.

Like any other liquid, tears evaporate. You may take steps to slow this process such as ensuring there is adequate humidity in the air. A humidifier (or even a pan of water on the radiator) may help. Other irritants could be overly warm rooms, hair dryers or wind. Tobacco smoke is especially bothersome.

© Copyright by the Canadian Ophthalmological Society