The continuous production and drainage of tears is important to the eye’s health. Tears keep the eye moist, help wounds heal, and protect against eye infection. In people with dry eye, the eye produces fewer or poor quality tears and is unable to keep its surface lubricated and comfortable.
The tear film consists of three layers–an outer, oily (lipid) layer that keeps tears from evaporating too quickly and helps tears remain on the eye; a middle (aqueous) layer that nourishes the cornea and conjunctiva; and a bottom (mucin) layer that helps to spread the aqueous layer across the eye to ensure that the eye remains wet. As we age, the eyes usually produce fewer tears. In some cases, the lipid and mucin layers produced by the eye are of such poor quality that tears cannot remain on the eye long enough to keep the eye sufficiently lubricated.
Dry eye symptoms include:
- Scratchy or sandy feeling as if something is in the eye
- Stinging or burning
- Excessive tearing that follow periods of very dry sensation
- A stringy discharge from the eye
- Pain and redness of the eye
- Heaviness of the eyelids
- Blurred, changing, or decreased vision (although loss of vision is uncommon)
Dry eye is more common in women, especially after menopause. Dry eye can occur in climates with dry air, as well as with the use of some drugs, including antihistamines, nasal decongestants, tranquilizers, and anti-depressant drugs. People with dry eye should let their health care providers know all the medications they are taking, since some of them may intensify dry eye symptoms.
People with connective tissue diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, can also develop dry eye. It is important to note that dry eye is sometimes a symptom of Sjögren’s syndrome, a disease that attacks the body’s lubricating glands, such as the tear and salivary glands. A complete physical examination may diagnose any underlying diseases.
Artificial tears, which lubricate the eye, are the principal treatment for dry eye. They are available over-the-counter as eye drops. Sterile ointments are sometimes used at night to help prevent the eye from drying. Using humidifiers, wearing wrap-around glasses when outside, and avoiding windy and dry conditions may bring relief. For people with severe cases of dry eye, temporary or permanent closure of the tear drain (small openings at the inner corner of the eyelids where tears drain from the eye) may be helpful.
Other Cornea Conditions
This information is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace medical care and should not be used as a substitute for a physician's advice or diagnosis. San Antonio Eye Center is not liable for any outcome or damages resulting from information obtained in this website in either an indirect or direct form.