Dry eye is one of the most common conditions that we deal with in eye care. It can be both frustrating for patients as well as their doctors because there is no simple fix. This condition tends to be chronic, and can vary in symptoms. Unhealthy tears will cause blurred vision, pain, light sensitivity, burning, watering, mattering, and irritation.
First, let us talk about what makes up healthy tears. Healthy tears are composed of water, mucous, and oil. If any of these components are out of balance, the tears will be unhealthy.
There are special glands that make each of these components. Glands are important parts of the body that secrete specialized fluids. For example, the salivary gland makes your saliva. These special glands of your eye work in harmony, communicating with each other to make healthy tears.
The water-producing gland (Lacrimal gland) is located inside your brow bone, and the mucous glands are located on the white part of your eye known as the conjunctiva.
The oil-producing glands (Meibomian glands) are at the base of your lids, at the lid margin, near the eyelashes. They release oil every time that you blink your eyes. This coats the outer surface of the tear film, and helps keep the tears from evaporating too quickly.
If these oil-making glands clog, then the tears will evaporate too quickly. This sends a signal to the water- producing gland to make MORE water to help protect the eye from damage. However, this means that the tears are not the right balance, causing problems for the patient.
We have to make the oil producing glands work well again to restore balance to the tear film. Usually, a combination of hot compresses, artificial tears, omega 3s, and oral medications are necessary to help these oil producing glands. Some patients have underlying conditions such as blepharitis and ocular rosacea that make dry eye symptoms worse. We will need to treat these underlying conditions as well.
There are things you can do to help your body produce healthy tears. These include:
- Taking breaks when doing visual intensive tasks such as reading or working on a computer. Simply looking across the room and blinking a few times helps.
- Drink plenty of water, and eat a healthy diet rich in omega 3s. Food that has a high percentage of omega 3s includes chia, flax, and wild caught fish such salmon.
- If you wear contacts, be sure you are not sleeping in them, keeping your case clean (and replace it every 3 months), and cleaning the lenses each night.
- Avoid using redness relieving drops like Visine or Clear Eyes. These drops do not help with dry eye, and can cause other eye health problems.
- Get regular eye exams each year with your optometrist or ophthalmologist.
Bio: Dr. Benson is an Optometrist with Eye Specialists of Mid-Florida. She is currently seeing patients at their Winter Haven and Haines City locations and is accepting new patients.