If you constantly have the feeling that your eyes are dry, itchy and sore, perhaps it’s time to go and see a doctor. Continual eye irritation, dryness and redness are often a sign of a common and treatable yet rather unpleasant condition medically termed the dry eye syndrome.
This condition is caused by chronic low tear and moisture production in the lacrimal or associated glands near the eye, or a dysfunction of the meibomian glands in the eyelids that can reduce oil production and lead to excessive tear evaporation. Sufficient eye moisture is necessary for seamless functioning of the anterior eye tissues and a lack of adequate tissue lubrication can often lead to severe inflammation.
Here are a few more things you need to know about the common symptoms, usual causes and recommended treatment for the dry eye syndrome.
Common Dry Eye Signs and Symptoms
Some early signs and symptoms of the dry eye syndrome may include:
- A persistent burning or stinging sensation in your eyes;
- Stringy mucus around or in one or both eyes;
- Intense eye irritation or scratchiness, especially when exposed to wind or smoke;
- Eye redness and/or inflammation;
- Continual eye fatigue;
- Increased sensitivity to light;
- Difficulties when wearing contact lenses;
- Frequent excessive tearing and watery eyes;
- Foreign body sensation, i.e. a feeling that there is something in your eye(s);
- Blurred vision that aggravates toward the end of the day or after long periods of intense focusing.
Usual Dry Eye Causes
The dry eye syndrome can be caused by a wide variety of factors, including:
- Poor tear quality due to dysfunction of meibomian or lacrimal glands, or low mucus levels. Meibomian glands are found on the edge of the eyelid and they produce lipids, or fatty oils, that smooth the tear surface and slow down the tear evaporation process. If your meibomian glands are not producing sufficient quantities of oil, tears will evaporate quickly, leading to itchiness, stinging and eye irritation. Similarly, lacrimal glands around the eye produce watery part of tears that help cleanse your eyes from irritants, debris or foreign particles and low production in these glands can lead to redness, scratchiness and burning sensations in your eyes. Mucus is commonly found in the eye in low to moderate quantities, aiding even distribution of tears over the eye, and a lack of it can cause to dry spots on the front part of the eye that sting and itch continuously.
- Keratoconjunctivitis sicca, or decreased tear production. This condition is common among people aged over 50 (caused by lower tear production due to ageing) and postmenopausal women (as result of hormonal changes). It is often diagnosed in people with medical conditions associated with reduced tear production (diabetes, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, thyroid disorders, Sjogren’s syndrome and vitamin A deficiency), individuals who at some point underwent laser eye surgery, people suffering from chronic tear gland damage caused by inflammation or radiation and individuals with eyelid problems (ectropion and entropion).
- Some medications used to remedy conditions not necessarily associated with the state of your eyes, such as medicines for high blood pressure, some antidepressants, antihistamines and decongestants, Isotretinoin-type drugs for acne treatment, Parkinson’s medications, birth control pills or even hormone replacement therapy.
- Living in an environment with dry, dusty or windy climate;
- Inadequate functioning of air conditioning and dry heating systems at your home or office;
- Long hours spent intensely focusing on computer screens or excessive use of smartphones in inadequate lighting conditions;
- Incomplete eyelid closure, which is commonly a side-effect of cosmetic eyelid surgery;
- Wearing contact lenses.
If the symptoms persist and begin to hinder you in your day-to-day life and activities, you should consider scheduling an appointment at your local ophthalmologist. After the medical tests and thorough eye examination, your doctor may prescribe some antibiotics and over-the-counter eye drops like artificial tears or similar ointment remedies. In case some medicines the patient is using are causing dry eyes as a side-effect, the doctor may decide to change the medications their patient is using to treat an underlying health issue. In more severe dry eye syndrome cases, the doctor may also instruct the patient to get some prescription eye inserts, special contact lenses or recommend temporary punctal occlusion or oculoplastic surgery (if dry eyes are due to eyelid problems).
Dry eyes are common and very unpleasant yet highly treatable condition if remedied timely, so in case you are concerned about the persistent itchiness, dryness, redness and irritation in your eyes, perhaps it is best for you to schedule an appointment with your doctor to establish the causes and prescribe the right treatment for your condition.