Dry eye disease, or dry eye syndrome, is a common eye problem which can occur when the glands that produce tears are not functioning at optimum levels. Tears themselves play many important roles in terms of keeping the eyes healthy. They can protect against infection and they also lubricate the eyes which helps to keep them clean and free of foreign bodies such as dust particles. At the same time, tears also help to us to see more effectively by stabilising our vision. When the eyes are not able to make enough tears, or they are unable to make tears of a certain quality, then the protective tear film that protects the surface is unable to do its job properly which leads to irritation, swelling and other undesirable complications.
How Tears Are Formed
Tears are not made by a singular tear gland as such, but rather a system of parts which work as a collective whole. This is known as the lacrimal functional unit and it is highly important that each part of this system does its job correctly. The main liquid that tears are made of is produced by the lacrimal gland which is located at the top corner of the eye socket near the bone. Now in order for this fluid to stick to the eye, an additional mucus like substance is required which is produced by goblet cells that are found in the lining of the eye. Ordinarily, this liquid would evaporate quite quickly but another process takes place to solve this issue. A unique oil is created and added to the tear film by the meibomian glands which are situated across the length of the eye lids at the roots of the eye lashes. When we blink, our eyelids then distribute the tear film across the surface of the eyes which keeps it moist. As well as producing tears, the lacrimal functional unit also drains excess fluid by means of the conjunctiva, which lines the back of the eyelids, and the tear ducts which are situated at the corner of each eye next to the nose.
Symptoms and Causes of Dry Eye
The main symptoms of dry eye include soreness and irritability, loss of focus through blurred vision, mild or severe burning sensations and the feeling that there is something actually stuck in the eye like a foreign body.
The underlying causes which lead to this can include:
- The surrounding environment – excessive heat or cold winds.
- Numerous diseases and illnesses.
- Fluctuations in hormonal levels.
- Certain medications with possible side effects.
Dry Eye Prevention and Treatments
If you are suffering from dry eye then it is always advisable to see your GP or an optician for more information as they should be able to determine the underlying cause of the condition. Depending on the severity of the complaint, you may be able to control dry eye syndrome by taking a few basic steps such as keeping your eyes clean with good optical hygiene, using a humidifier to reduce the dryness of the air in the room where you spend most of your time and by taking nutritional supplements such as omega-3 and flaxseed oil.
In more severe cases you may be advised to wear specialist eyewear or use lubricating eye drops to combat the condition. Surgery is also a distinct possibility and this can involve sealing the tear ducts either permanently or by means of temporary plugs.