Dry eye disease is a complicated disease process which can cause symptoms such as irritation and burning, in addition to visual disturbances like blurred vision. Millions of people are affected by dry eye syndrome, but they may not know the cause of their symptoms. If you have been diagnosed with dry eyes, or suffer from ocular irritation and blurred vision, read on to learn more about what could be causing your problems.
Production or Evaporation: What’s Causing Your Symptoms?
Dry eye disease has two main causes: there are not enough tears being produced, or the tears are not the proper consistency. If not enough tears are being produced, the dryness is referred to as “aqueous deficiency.” These cases of dry eye are typically addressed with lubrication, keeping the front of the eye moist with artificial tears. The more common cause of dry eye disease is known as “evaporative dryness” and is caused by a concurrent condition known as Meibomian gland dysfunction, or MGD. Lining our eyelids are millions of glands, called Meibomian glands, that are responsible for creating and releasing an oily portion of our tears, called meibum. Meibum is what gives our tears the proper consistency, and allows them to completely cover the front of our eye without quickly evaporating. In Meibomian gland dysfunction, the oil is not being properly secreted from our glands, and our tears are not adequately protecting and nourishing our eyes. MGD is much more common than aqueous deficiency. Both types of dry eye can have similar symptoms: dryness, grittiness, discomfort, and occasionally a foreign-body sensation.
Risks, Prevention, and Treatment of Dry Eye Disease
Dry eye disease has a multitude of causes and risk factors. The most common risk factor associated with the condition is increased age; as we get older, Meibomian glands begin malfunctioning, and the number of properly-working glands significantly decreases. Another risk factor is contact lens wear, as long-term use of lenses has been shown to subtly affect the way Meibomian glands function. Additionally, women tend to be affected by dry eye disease more than men.
Keeping your eyelids, eyelashes, and Meibomian glands clean can play a significant role in preventing MGD and dry eye. Warm compresses can help stubborn Meibomian glands release the much-needed oil. Lid scrubs are helpful in ridding the eyelids of debris or makeup that can clog or damage Meibomian glands.
If you have experienced symptoms of dryness, irritation, or blurred vision that clears up with blinking, it’s time to pay a visit to your optometrist. An eye doctor can identify the cause of your dry eye disease by studying your tear film and evaluating the Meibomian glands along your eyelids. Once the cause of your dryness is identified, they can prescribe the best treatment for your specific form of dry eye disease. Whether it’s use of over-the-counter artificial tears, prescription topical eye drops, or even oral medications, your optometrist can help you take steps to prevent future ocular discomfort and provide clearer, more consistent vision.