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What Is Dry Eye

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What Happens In This Condtion

Dry eye, or keratoconjunctivitis sicca is a condition of the eye when it fails to form enough tears or the tears formed evaporate fast.

Tears perform the crucial task of lubricating the eyes, thus helping it to wash away dirt and debris. If, because of something, the eyes fail to form enough tears or good quality tears, and the eye is not properly lubricated, the eye dries out and causes discomfort.

As we saw above, our eyes need to have a constant layer of tears for their lubrication, safety, and well-being.

To understand the condition of dry eyes, let us delve into the details of the composition and functioning of tears.

Tears are made up of a complex combination of oils, water, mucus, and more than thousand varieties of protein components.

The different glands in and around the eyes produce the following three layers of tears

  • Lipid layer - the Meibomian glands present in the eyelids form an oily layer
  • Aqueous layer - the lacrimal glands behind the upper eyelids produce a watery component
  • Mucin layer - the goblet cells of the conjunctiva produce this layer

Each of these tears components have different functions. The lipid layer prevents tears from evaporating too fast. The aqueous layer lubricates and nourishes various parts of the eye. The mucin layer along with the aqueous layer, is responsible for the eye’s lubrication.

A problem with one of these layers of the eyes leads to inadequate or low-quality tears and thus leads to dry eyes. The type of dry eye you have depends on the layer that is affected. For example, ‘evaporative dry eye’ is due to an issue in the lipid layer while ‘aqueous deficiency dry eye’ is associated with an issue in the aqueous layer of tears.

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Symptoms of dry eyes

Some of the common symptoms of dry eyes include

  • Itching and burning sensation in the eyes
  • Dull ache in the proximity of the eyes
  • heavy feeling in the eyes
  • Eye fatigue and tiredness of the eyes
  • Sore eyes
  • A feeling of dryness in the eyes
  • Though surprising, watery eyes – this is a symptom caused because of over-stimulation of the glands producing the aqueous component of tears as a reflex action to the dry eyes. Such tears are of poor quality as they have more of the watery component and they are temporary.
  • red eyes
  • Changes in vision – blurred
  • Increased photobhobia or light sensitivity
  • Foreign body sensation
  • Inflammation of the eyes
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Causes Of Dry Eye

Though it is difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of dry eye, it is believed that the following health and lifestyle factors may increase the risk for dry eyes.

  • Ageing (50 or above)
  • Autoimmune and other diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, diabetes and thyroid disorders.
  • Hormonal changes for menopause
  • Seasonal allergies
  • Eye problems like inability to close the eyelids fully, which may be a result of legophthalmos
  • Staring at screens - computers, laptops, smartphones, etc. - for long hours without blinking. Learn more about Computer Vision Syndrome.
  • Some medications for conditions like high blood pressure, anxiety, Parkinson’s
  • Excessive use of medicines like antihistamines, antidepressants, and decongestants
  • Excessive use of artificial air conditioning, heating, etc., when humidity levels are low
  • Smoking and tobacco
  • Prolonged use of contact lenses

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Confirmation of Chronic Dry Eye

It is not enough to look at the symptoms to diagnose dry eyes. Your optometrist can conduct various tests to confirm if it is a chronic dry eye syndrome.

Treatment options

Based on the severity of dry eye detected, your eye doctor may prescribe lubricant drops. Lifestyle changes like quitting smoking, following the 20-20-20 rule while working at the computer screen, and inclusion of a healthy diet and exercise may do wonders.


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