Dry Eye Syndrome
Have your eyes been red, irritated, and painful? If you ask your primary care physician, they will quickly tell you that the corneal specialists at Montgomery Eye Physicians are experts in the diagnosis and treatment of “dry eye syndrome” also known as dry eyes, keratoconjunctivitis sicca, or the more severe form known as Sjogren’s Syndrome. It is a common disorder that affects approximately 10-30% of the population, particularly people over the age of 40, and more often women.
With each blink, tears are distributed across the front surface of the eye. Tears are made of three layers – a thin, oily layer which helps to spread the tear evenly across the surface of the eye and reduce evaporation; water; and mucus, helpful in the even distribution of tear film across the cornea. A healthy tear film cleans the eye – keeping the surface clear and smooth. It also lubricates the eye – reducing the possibility of infection.
Dry eye syndrome occurs when there is:
- insufficient tear production, and/or
- an abnormality in the composition of the tear film, and/or
- excessive tear evaporation.
What causes dry eye syndrome? There are many factors that affect tear production and quality. Environment, age, medication(s), eyelid problems, menopause, and certain surgical procedures are a few of the contributors.
Any of the above can cause your eyes to be unusually dry, resulting in redness, light sensitivity, foreign body sensation, stinging, burning, and general discomfort. The problem can result from a combination of factors and may be chronic or arise at any time and without warning.
Ironically, some patients experience excessive tearing with dry eye syndrome. This is a result of severe dryness and subsequent irritation. In this case, the tears produced evaporate quickly and do not provide the necessary lubrication to make the eye comfortable. Although irritation is the most common result of the condition, untreated patients may develop an infection, corneal scarring, and/or vision loss.
There are several levels of treatment available.
Treatment for some patients can be as simple as environmental or dietary changes. Others may need artificial tear substitutes, gels, or ointments to improve their comfort and reduce symptoms. If the problem persists or is more severe, additional treatments such as punctal plugs (absorbable or permanent), steroids and/or other prescription medications may be offered to control and treat the dryness.