A dry, gritty feeling in the eyes is something we are all familiar with. Most of the time it is a temporary condition that might arise when we experience something like lack of sleep or a dry climate. For some people however, dry eyes can become a persistent problem caused by producing too few tears to keep the eye lubricated or tears evaporating too quickly.
Dry eye (also known as keratoconjunctivitis sicca or sicca syndrome) occurs when the membrane that lines the eyelid and covers the white of the eye (conjunctiva), and the clear layer in front of the iris and pupil (cornea) are too dry - making the eyes irritated.
Common symptoms of dry eye include a constant dry, gritty or sandy feeling in the eyes, redness, burning sensations, light sensitivity, irritation, stickiness, blurred vision, soreness and even watery eyes because the body may produce excessive tears in response to the dryness and irritation. Dry eye sufferers will also find wearing contact lenses difficult and may have to wear them for short periods of time or not at all.
Causes and Treatments
Dry eye is not usually a serious condition but it can be very irritating for sufferers. There are several causes including:
Inflammation of the eyelid glands and eyelash follicles due to over production of bacteria normally found on the eyelids can compromise the quality of the tear film causing tears to evaporate more quickly. This can often be treated with good eyelid hygiene, warm compresses and in some instances, antibiotics prescribed by your optician or doctor.
People aged over 65 are most affected by dry eyes as our eyes produce fewer tears as we get older. Around 75% of all people aged over 65 will suffer from dry eyes.
Women suffer more than men due to hormonal changes associated with pregnancy, lactation, menstruation and menopause.
Wearing contact lenses can cause irritation and dry eyes. Wearers who suffer are advised to only wear lenses for a few hours at a time and should consult their optician for the best options for their personal situation.
Computer users tend to blink less frequently (on average 7 times per minute as opposed to the normal rate of about 22 times per minute). This may cause increased tear evaporation. It is advisable to position your monitor below eye level to ensure the upper eyelid covers more of the eye’s surface. Make sure your room has good air circulation and decrease the glare from your screen.
Some medications may contribute to dry eye symptoms. It is best to consult your doctor if you believe dry eyes may be linked to medication you are taking.
Some diseases including arthritis, diabetes, asthma, thyroid disease and lupus are commonly associated with dry eyes. Sjögren’s Syndrome is the name given to the combination of symptoms that includes dry eyes, dry mouth and arthritis.
Because there are so many different causes of dry eye, your treatment will depend on your individual symptoms, and the cause of your condition.
Most treatments for dry eye involve either replacing tears with eye drops, or reducing tear drainage with minor surgery in the form of punctal plugs - tiny, biocompatible devices inserted into tear ducts to block drainage.
For a full diagnosis and treatment recommendation for your dry eye syndrome visit your optometrist, doctor or eye specialist for appropriate advice.