Dry Eyes Syndrome: Causes, Symptoms, & Treatments
Some of the treatments for dry eyes include lascricert, intense pulsed light therapy, antibiotics, an adequate consumption of water, sufficient lubrication, and the use of humidifiers, cucumber slices, castor oil, and lavender oil, as well as the application of Aloe Vera gel on the eyelids and proper nutrition.
There are certain things that can be avoided to prevent dry eyes in the first place. These include spending less time in front of the TV and computer, avoiding dry environments, and reducing the consumption of coffee, alcohol, and acidic food.
What are Tears? How are they Produced?
Before we understand the causes behind dry eyes, it is important to know how the process of tears works. Tears that our eyes produce are essentially a protective and cleansing layer on the surface of our eyes. These tears are produced by tear ducts, scientifically known as meibomian glands and lacrimal glands. These small glands are located on the sides of both the eyes and produce tears which constantly protect and clean our eyes from foreign bodies and irritants as well as from bacterial, fungal and yeast infections.
Tears are a mixture of enzymes, proteins, peptides, fatty acids, water, and electrolytes, mostly salts. These tears can be divided into three layers, consisting of oil, water, and mucus. The oil is produced in the meibomian glands while the electrolyte water is produced in lacrimal glands. The presence of mucus helps in evenly spreading the oil and water on the surface of the eyes. The oil, water, and mucus come together to form a thin layer on the eye, known as tear film.
What is Dry Eye Syndrome?
Any damage or disturbance to the delicate tear film of the eye causes a condition called “Dry eye syndrome”. When deprived of tears, the eyes suffer a chronic lack of moisture due to damage to the tear gland. This results in persistent dryness, itchiness, and a burning sensation in the eye. Dry eyes are medically referred as Keratitis sicca, which means a decrease in the quality/quantity of the tear supply. The eye depends on moisture for its proper functioning. The lesser the supply of tears, the worse the condition becomes.
According to the Optometric Clinical Practice Guidelines, from the American Optometric Association, dry eyes have been categorized into:
Aqueous deficient dry eye, where lack of water in tears is the root cause
Mucin deficient dry eyes, where lack of mucus in tears is the root cause
Surface abnormalities include irregular epithelial surface on the eye surface
Dry eyes can occur due to temporary issues or long-term health issues. Some of the common causes are explained below.
Dry eyes could result from arrested tear production and tear evaporation. Some common causes include advanced age, hormonal changes, decreased oil, water, or mucus production in the tear glands, damage to the tear glands, various autoimmune diseases, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Dryness in the eyes could happen due to inadequate blinking as well. Every time we blink, the tears lubricate our eyes and decrease strain. Often, when we are watching TV, working on the computer or working on something that requires a great deal of attention and concentration, we unconsciously cease blinking. This causes strain on the eyes. This strain adds up and causes dryness, irritation, and even damage in certain cases.
Use of contact lenses can also be attributed as a cause of dry eye syndrome. Wearing contact lenses is also attributed to bacterial keratitis. As the contact lens sits on the surface of the eye, it hinders the free circulation of tears on the surface, which leads to excessive evaporation of tears and dry eye syndrome.
Certain types of medications such as antihistamines, antidepressants, beta-blockers, and oral contraceptives are to known to decrease tear production.
Conditions such as strokes or Bell’s palsy make it difficult to close the eyes. This causes tear evaporation and leads to rapid drying out of the eyes.
Dry eyes are also common among old people. Due to aging, the tear film begins to fade and thus gets damaged. Aging processes, such as menopause, may also be the cause of dry eyes.
A lack of vitamin A also leads to dry eyes. Vitamin A is one of the most important vitamins in regards to eyes. The carotenoids in vitamin A help in building up the tear glands. In the long run, a deficiency of vitamin A may lead to night blindness and cloud formation in front of the eyes.
Symptoms of Dry Eyes
Some of the symptoms of dry eyes include:
Pain, irritation, scratchiness, burning sensation, and light sensitivity in the eyes.
Blurred vision: Due to the lack of moisture, the eye fails to function ideally. Vision might blur. When this happens, the patient should rest his eyes and not expose them to any form of strain.
Foreign body sensation: The patient feels that there is something in their eye.
Sjogren’s syndrome: In some cases, dry eyes, along with dry mouth and dry nose with minimal mucous secretion, is an indication of a disease called Sjogren’s syndrome, which is an autoimmune disease.
Rarely, dry eyes may cause excessive tear production. This works as a protective mechanism when dryness overstimulates the production of tears.
Treatments & Home Remedies for Dry Eyes
There are numerous ways to treat the condition of dry eyes through eye drops, lenses, therapies, massages, etc. We have discussed them in detail below:
Antibiotics: These antibiotics are used to reduce inflammation around your eyelids that keep your oil glands from providing oil into your tears. They can be taken orally or, sometimes, in the form of eye drops.
Eye drops for corneal inflammation: Eye drops like Restasis, Xiidra, can all be used for the dry eye syndrome. They help in the formation of tears and thereby lubricate the cornea, reducing inflammation. They are also commonly known as artificial tears.
Lascricert or Eye inserts: This is a rice like grain that is placed under the lower eyelid to help lubricate your eyes. It dissolves into the eye and keeps it moistened for a whole day. It can also cause a corneal abrasion if not placed properly. Lascirest is a type of eye insert that is mostly recommended to patients suffering from severe dry eye symptoms.
Autologous blood serum drops: these are eye drops made from your own blood, they are used as an option in cases of extreme dry eye symptoms. Doctors only resort to this treatment, when no other alternatives seem to have an effect on the patient. A salt solution is processed with a sample of your blood to make these blood serum drops.
Intense Pulsed Light therapy: intense pulsed light therapy is used in case of ocular rosacea. It is a condition where the blood vessels around the eyelashes dilate, which leads to dry eye symptoms. The treatment involves flashing of bright light over the skin that is absorbed by the dilated blood vessels, thereby curing the inflammation. Usually, the patients undergo around 4 to 6 pulse light treatment.
Other treatments include the use of special kind of contact lenses, called scleral lenses or bandaged lenses that retain moisture in the eyes, use of nutritional supplements, LipiFlow treatment, etc. You can also try the various home remedies available for dry eyes that can be implemented at home. These home remedies involve simple ingredients that are available in almost all households. Some of them include the following:
Hydration: Dehydration can be a major cause of dry eyes. Water acts like a back-up for all the metabolic activities in the body. Thus, consuming at least 8 to 10 glasses of water is recommended for a patient suffering from dry eyes. An adequate consumption of water helps to recover from dry eye syndrome.
Lubrication: Eyes tend to dry out during sleep. To avoid this, a lubricant should be applied before sleeping to supply moisture to the eyes while you remain asleep. Also, you could provide moisture to your eyes using a washcloth dipped in water. Do not wash your eyes too much, as this may wash out the tears. Also, make sure to take breaks when working, and close your eyes so that they are allowed to rest properly.
Blinking Exercise: To reduce strain to dry eyes, maximum moisture must be supplied to the eyes. This could be achieved by constant blinking. Blinking will help moisten the eye and also spread the tears to the sides of the eyes.
Eye Hygiene: People with dry eyes tend to constantly rub their eyes. This can cause inflammation while forcing dust and microbes to enter the eyes. Therefore, eye hygiene should be maintained and rubbing should be avoided as much as possible.
Cucumber: When it comes to providing cool relief for your eyes, cucumber is the best choice. Cut fresh chilled cucumber into moderately thin slices and place them on the eyes. The chilled cucumber automatically numbs the dry sensation.
Castor Oil: Castor oil is known to act as a water retainer. In this sense, it is a good remedy for dry eyes to place a single drop of castor oil in the eye. A study on castor oil and its optometric function showed that it is good for dry eyes in cases of meibomian gland dysfunction.
Lavender Oil: A few drops of lavender oil can be mixed with one cup of water to make a solution. With a washcloth dipped in the solution, apply it to the eyes. This solution provides a soothing effect to the eyes and is known as an effective home remedy.
Cold Milk or Rose Water: Dip a piece of cotton either in rose water or cold milk and apply it on your closed eyes. Leave it on for about 10 minutes. This will allow the eyes to relax, thereby reducing strain.
Apply Oil: According to Ayurvedic medicine, the oil must be applied on the head and on the sole of your feet every night before going to bed. This procedure is believed to counter Vata dosha or the “wind dysfunction”.
Humidifiers: For speedy recovery of the dry eye patient, the surroundings must be kept moist. This can be done with the help of indoor humidifiers or air cleaners. These can help avoid dry air and provide moisture for the patient’s eyes.
Aloe Vera: Aloe Vera can also be considered as an alternative for dry eyes. The gel or the viscous liquid inside the leaf of the Aloe Vera can be applied on the eye lid. This is believed to reduce the symptoms of dry eyes when regularly used. However, do not put the gel directly on the eye surface, as it may increase the symptoms.
Proper Nutrition: Dry eyes are indirectly caused due to a lack of essential fatty acids in the diet. The essential fatty acids (EFAs) consist of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids that help ward off dry eyes syndrome. Oils such as fish oil contain exceptional nutritious potential. The EFA’s (omega-3 and omega-6) are widely found in dried fruits and grains, including walnuts, sesame, grape seed, almonds, and whole grains. A good diet can help tackle any syndrome.
Warm Water: Soak a towel in warm water, remove excess water, and cover the upper face for 15-20 minutes. This would maintain the moisture in the eyes.
Things to Avoid in the Case of Dry Eyes
Dry Environment: Dry environments should be strictly avoided for people suffering from dry eyes. Dry air acts as an evaporating agent for your existing tears and also acts as an irritant. Hair dryers or smoke are dangerous in this situation as well, so keep your distance.
Avoid AC: Staying in air-conditioned environments for a long time can aggravate dry eyes. The air circulating in air conditioning units is drier than natural air and the lack of moisture in the air can worsen the condition of dry eyes.
Limit Computer Use: Often, dry eyes are experienced by people who work for long hours on computers and those who watch TV for a longer duration. While staring at monitors or televisions, people do not often blink their eyes, along with putting a lot of stress on the eyes and causing the eyes to dry up.
Coffee Consumption: Excessive coffee consumption has been believed to intensify dry eyes in many cases. If you are suffering from dry eyes, try to limit your coffee consumption. Coffee is a diuretic and the consumption of diuretics, in the long run, can cause dry eye syndrome due to general dehydration in the body.
Avoid Smoking: It seems as though smoking and dry eyes are not related, but in reality, smokers are much more likely to be affected with dry eyes than nonsmokers. Apart from dry eyes, smoking is responsible for several eye diseases, including glaucoma, cataracts, and macular degeneration.
With the above treatments, home remedies, and precautions, a person could easily cure dry eyes. Even if you don’t have dry eyes, it’s always good to take precautions and take good care of your eyes.