The front surface of your eye is coated with a thin layer of tears. These tears keep your eye healthy and comfortable, and are necessary for both overall eye health and clear vision. Dry eye occurs when your eyes don't produce enough tears or produce tears that don't have the proper chemical composition.
Dry eye symptoms can result from the normal aging process, hormonal changes, exposure to certain environmental conditions, problems with blinking, or from medications such as antihistamines, oral contraceptives, and antidepressants. Dry eye can also be a symptom of general health problems, such as arthritis, or can result from UV exposure and environmental irritants.
Common symptoms of dry eye include stinging, gritty, scratchy, and uncomfortable eyes; fluctuating vision; and a burning feeling or feeling of a foreign body within the eye. In moderate to severe cases, patients may experience blurred vision, light sensitivity, or even periods of excess tearing.
To determine the cause of dry eye symptoms, optometrists will review the patient's general health, use of medications, home and work environments; and will use a high-powered microscope and special dyes to evaluate the quality, amount and distribution of tears.
If dry eye is left untreated, it can be harmful. Excessive dry eye can damage and possibly scar the sensitive corneal tissues of the eye, impairing vision. Dry eye can make contact lens wear more difficult.
Dry eye is usually chronic, and although there is no cure, optometrists can offer treatments to manage the condition and reduce discomfort. Artificial lubricating eye drops or ointments may be used. In more severe cases your optometrist may prescribe anti-inflammatory eye drops, or tiny plugs may be inserted in the corner of the eyelids to slow drainage and loss of tears. Treatment of any underlying systemic disease, as well as dietary changes to add items such as fish or flax seed oil, can sometimes be helpful. New prescription medications are now available to help the eye produce more of its own tears.