Dry Eye Syndrome
Dry eye syndrome, better termed dysfunctional tear syndrome, is a growing epidemic that has eye care professionals around the world concerned. Symptoms are often described as foreign body sensation, burning, redness, or even tearing. In the majority of cases, the symptoms are the only concerning problem—however, in very severe cases, damage to the cornea may cause a loss in vision. If you suffer from a scratchy, dry, or a burning sensation, you may be experiencing dry eye, and should be seen at Lexington Eye for testing and treatment.
The Ocular Tear Film
The tear film that coats the surface of the eye is made up of three unique layers: an outer oil layer, a water layer in the middle, and a mucus layer closest to the ocular surface. Glands near the eyelashes in the eyelids produce the outer, oily layer of the tear film. The main purpose of this oily layer is to decrease evaporation of the water layer. The middle, water layer is the largest of the three layers, and it makes up most of what we ordinarily think of as tears. This watery layer is produced by glands scattered through the conjunctiva and by the major tear gland, the lacrimal gland. The innermost layer consists of mucus produced by cells in the conjunctiva. This layer allows the watery layer to spread evenly over the surface of the eye and helps the eye to remain quite moist. Any defect in one or more of these layers can cause abnormalities in the ocular tear film.
Causes of Dry Eye Syndrome
Although dry eye syndrome may sound as though there is a lack of tears, several different physiologic processes can all produce very similar symptoms. For example, patients may have a deficiency in the amount of water layer produced, or they can have damage to the cells producing mucus, or they can have insufficient oils from the eyelids that allows for rapid evaporation of the water layer.
These problems can be caused by a wide variety of factors, including the natural aging process, over-the-counter and prescription medicines, contact lens wear, and environmental factors. Likewise, numerous diseases such as infections, autoimmune diseases, or other medical conditions can cause a dysfunction in the tear film.
Dry eye can be a difficult problem to completely cure and often becomes a chronic disease. The goal of treatment is to prevent the more serious complications and alleviate the bothersome symptoms of this eye condition.
Treatment often depends on the specific cause of the problem. Numerous over-the-counter as well as prescription medications can be used to alleviate symptoms. Likewise, procedures such as the placement of plugs in the tear drain can be performed in the office and provide significant relief of symptoms. As a widespread problem for many patients, there are currently several new prescription medications that are being investigated and have been showing great hope.