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You may not always notice this, but your eyes are constantly tearing up. It’s not as much as you would normally produce like in the case of crying, but just enough to keep your eye healthy and free from dirt. When abnormal conditions arise - like for example, your eyelids feel very itchy - that’s when you’ll notice that they lack the usual moisture that they have. Basically, they’re dry and irritating.
A common thought you’d probably get is that it’s probably from concentrating too long on your phone’s screen, or maybe due to the hot weather. Let’s get into the details with that.
So, what causes dry eye? Dry eyes can occur due to two possible events. First, it could occur as a result of inadequate production of tears. Second, the quick evaporation of moisture from the eye may also allow this sensation to be felt. This is usually due to problems with the meibomian glands.
Tears produced by the glands of the eye have three components: oil, water and mucus. The meibomian glands are found at the rim of the eyelids and are responsible for producing meibum, an oily substance which coats the eye and prevents evaporation of moisture. The mucus layer allows the tears to spread evenly around the eye’s surface. Any problems with the production of these three parts may result to dry eyes.
Why do these things occur? These abnormal changes may be due to several things. The condition of environment does play a role in the drying and evaporation of moisture from the eye. Activities that the individual engages his or herself in may also contribute to this, as there is a tendency during visual concentration of less frequent blinking.
Hormones, the signaling molecules that the body produces, may also elicit this effect. Women are more affected by this factor since they often undergo through hormonal changes every month, during pregnancy, while on contraceptive pills, and during menopause. Some medication side effects may elicit eye dryness, such as antihistamines, antidepressants, beta-blockers and diuretics.
As a person ages, the eyelids become a little less effective at distributing moisture around the eye, which is why elderly people are more at risk for this. They also produce less tears. Anyone who has tried wearing contact lenses, even for just a day, know how irritating the material is to one’s eye, which is why it should be no surprise that some types of lenses decrease its lubrication ability. You can opt to change your contact lens type, or perhaps change the solution and choose one with no preservatives. Some people get this side effect after undergoing laser eye treatment, some time after surgery. It usually clears up as time allows the eyes to heal.
Medical conditions such as rosacea, which is an inflammatory skin disease, and blepharitis, another inflammatory eyelid disease, can disrupt the function of the meibomian glands. Disorders which affect the immune system or the capability of the body to fight such as Sjögren’s syndrome, lupus, scleroderma, and rheumatoid arthritis may cause dry eyes as well.
Diabetes, thyroid disorders, and Vitamin A deficiency have also been associated with the occurrence of dry eye.
The reason as to why your eye tends to be irritated due to this abnormal sensation is because it wants the condition to be managed before severe symptoms develop. Without the tear’s adequate protection, infections of the eye may take place. There is a washing effect due to this natural lubricant. Antibodies are present as well, which help fight off the invasion of foreign agents.
Lack of management of dry eyes may also cause damage to the surface of the eye. Because of the process of inflammation, corneal abrasion and ulcers may be observed and these are due to the possible reactions of the person to the irritant, like scratching the affected area for example. In effect, living with unmanaged dry eyes may lead to a decreased quality of life as it would prove to be difficult to do daily tasks requiring vision.
Specialized eyewear which serve as a chamber that locks moisture are available for use. If contact lenses are the ones causing the problem, visiting your optometrist would help clear up the issue of whether they are the irritants, and you could also get a better lens type suited for you.
If you work a desk job and constantly need to use a computer, perhaps you could adjust the monitor to be placed a little lower than your eye level so the eyelids can protect the surface of the eye better. Breaks should be mandatory, and should be regularly done. Just have a quick five minute scenery change and walk outside in your yard, look at the green plants around you. The goal is to look at something placed quite far from you, and of course looking at nature is said to also decrease stress.
Another factor is hygiene, which plays an important role. What you could do to alleviate symptoms is to apply warm compress to the area in order to allow the natural tears to coat the eye better. You could also clear the area from the accumulation of dirt by use of wipes, and massage your eye every once in a while to facilitate oil production from the glands.
There is said to be some correlation between high omega-3 fat consumption and relief of dry eye. You can get this type of fat from certain types of fish like mackerel, salmon, sardines, herring and tuna. Keep in mind that canned fish may not have the same amount of nutrients because the canning and preserving process may have stripped the meat of its natural oils.
Most people use artificial tears, which are more commonly known as eye drops, to compensate the abnormal lack of lubrication in the eye. It is important to note, though, that these substances lack certain elements that the natural tear has, such as the antibodies that protect from invaders and the nutrients that nourish the eye. Prescriptions are not really needed to avail this type of eye relief, but in order to know which one would be the best option it would be advisable to refer to your optometrist for advise first.
Also, please note that it would usually be better to avoid long term usage of eye solutions with preservatives as these may cause irritation and damage after some time. It is said that these preservative substances stick to your contacts and affect the cells of the eyes, so be careful in picking among all the brands and types you encounter.
It was also noted before that the oil component of tears are important, and there are available drops which help in reapplying it to the eye. They are applied while the eyes are closed and once you open them, the oil layer is restored to recreate a new oily layer. These oil eye drops are useful especially when there are problems with the meibomian glands, but may require prescriptions.
The most common type of anti-inflammatory treatments used for dry eye is corticosteroids. These are powerful and are applied by drops or ointments. Cataracts and increased eye pressure may occur though, so apply these with caution and with the blessing of a physician. Other types of anti-inflammatory medications are oral tetracyclines and cyclosporine eye drops, which should only be used if stated by your doctor.
Serum Eye drops are utilized when all the other medications fail to work. This is done by taking blood and then removing the cells of the blood, leaving only the remaining serum. This is only available from a certain organization with appropriate funding though.
If the condition is severe and medications have not worked for you, surgery can be an option. Punctal occlusion involves the sealing of tear ducts in order to preserve moisture. Interestingly, another type of surgery is available which involves the transplanting of salivary glands from the lower lip to the eye. The gland would now stand as a replacement tear producer. According to a research conducted in 2017 by Wakamatsu, et. al., these types of replacements actually reproduce the protective components that help in eye protection such as proteins, enzymes, and mucins.Odd as it is to think that you’d be replacing your tears with saliva, it actually works well.
To answer your question once again, your eyes are dry because of either a lack of adequate production of tears, or because of quick moisture evaporation due to the loss of the important oil layer which acts as a film protection. You can alleviate this by way of lifestyle changes or by direct medications and treatment. Always consult your doctor when you’re planning to medicate yourself.
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