Dry eye or dry eye syndrome is a common eye disorder that occurs when there is a lack of lubrication and moistness of the eye surface (cornea, conjunctiva and tear film). This happens because the eye does not produce enough tears to maintain a good hydration or the tears are of poor quality.
This syndrome, also known as keratoconjunctivitis sicca, affects around 5 million people in Spain and at ICR is treated by the Cornea Department.
What is dry eye?
Dry eye is a chronic syndrome that can cause discomfort and, in more serious cases, severe visual problems and injuries to the ocular surface.
A low production of tears or its poor quality is due to a malfunction of the Meibomian glands, which are located in the upper and lower eyelids. These sebaceous glands are those that secrete lipids that serve to hydrate and lubricate the eyes and, at the same time, prevent tears from evaporating the tear film that covers and protects the eye.
What are the causes and factors associated with dry eye syndrome?
Nowadays dry eye affects a large number of people and is one of the most frequent disorders in ophthalmological consultations.
There are several factors associated with this syndrome:
- Older age: over the years the tear loses quality and does not hydrate the eye properly.
- Indoor environmental factors, such as the use of air conditioners and heating.
- External environmental factors, such as wind or pollution.
- Hormonal changes that affect mostly women (menopause).
- Dermatological disorders, such as rosacea.
- Frequent use of contact lenses.
- Taking drugs, such as antidepressants, anxiolytics, contraceptives or antihistamines.
- Use of electronic devices for long periods of time.
- Having undergone eye surgery, such as laser refractive surgery.
- Travel frequently by plane.
- Treatment with chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
- Bad eating habits.
- Having certain systemic or autoimmune diseases, such as diabetes, fibromyalgia, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, etc.
- Problems with the eyelid, such as blepharitis.
What are the symptoms of dry eye?
The symptomatology of dry eye syndrome, in addition to ocular dryness, is usually:
- Burning sensation
- Eye redness
- Heaviness in the eyelids
- Pain in the eye
- Sensitivity to light (photophobia)
- Gritty sensation
- Blurry vision
- Visual fatigue that hinders everyday tasks, such as reading or driving.
- Inflammation and irritation of the eyes.
These symptoms can worsen due to environmental factors and, in case of presenting one or several of them, it is necessary to go to the ophthalmologist as soon as possible.
What ophthalmic tests are used to diagnose dry eye?
To diagnose the dry eye syndrome, it is necessary to make an exhaustive study of the symptoms presented by the patient, in addition to performing the ophthalmological tests that the specialist considers necessary.
Some diagnostic tests are:
- Review of the eyelids to know the frequency of blinking and the production and quality of tears.
- Check the state of the Meibomian glands.
- Contrast study to check the condition and sensitivity of the cornea.
- Biopsy of the surface of the eye.
- Blood test to rule out an associated immune disease.
What is the treatment for dry eye?
Being a chronic disease, treatment for dry eye will be long term. In addition, it will be established after carrying out an individualized assessment of each case and studying the patient’s background.
The treatments prescribed to patients with dry eye usually include:
- Adequate hygiene of the eyelids. In this way, excess secretions that can cause other associated eye conditions (blepharitis) are eliminated.
- Use of artificial tears. This type of treatment will help keep the eyes moist and lubricated.
- Use of anti-inflammatory or antibiotic eye drops and/or taking corticosteroids.
- Exfoliation of the eyelids to eliminate the residues caused by desquamation and bacteria that have accumulated due to the lack of tears.
- Probing of the Meibomian glands to open the tear duct and extract the secretions accumulated inside.
- Blocking of the lacrimal ducts with the introduction of silicone/gel plugs in the tear duct so that natural tears remain in the eye longer.
Tips to prevent dry eye
There are precautionary measures that we can take to avoid and/or reduce the risk factors that cause dry eye syndrome.
- Try to avoid environmental causes. The prolonged use of air conditioners and heaters should be avoided as much as possible. In addition, it is recommended to protect the eyes with protective goggles, rest eyesight to avoid eyestrain, use humidifiers, etc.
- Follow a healthy diet rich in omega 3 fatty acids to improve the quality of the tears.
- Abandon unhealthy habits with impact to the eyes, such as smoking.
- Rest the sight after activities such as reading or using screens, which affect the frequency of blinking.
- Make a good cleaning of the eye area, especially the eyelids.
- Use of lubricating gels or artificial tears to keep the eyes hydrated at all times.
In any case, it will always be necessary to go to the ophthalmologist to establish a personalized treatment if you notice any symptoms or discomfort in the eyes.