Dry eye syndrome is a disease whereby the eye is unable to produce adequate tears either in volume or quality. This results in inflammation of the eye surface which further worsens the dryness. It is one of the most frequent causes of visits to an eye specialist.
To understand dry eyes, it is important to understand the tear film. The tear film is made up of three layers. The outermost layer is an oil (lipid) layer, followed by a water (aqueous) layer and finally the innermost mucous (mucin) layer. The outermost lipid layer coats the tears and prevents it from evaporating. The middle aqueous layer provides nutrients to the surface of the eye, washes away debris and removes waste products. The inner mucin layer acts as a protective lubricant and provides a smooth surface for the even distribution of tears over the surface of the eye. Each time we blink, a protective coating of tears is spread like a film over the front of our eye. When any part of the tear film isn’t functioning properly, you may start to experience one or more symptoms of dry eyes.
An ophthalmologist can diagnose dry eyes by evaluating your tear quantity and quality. This should be correlated with any medical conditions you may have as well as an examination of your eye and eyelids. The latest technology involves the use of tear film interferometry to measure the tear film thickness and imbalance. This is important as effective management depends on the type of dry eyes and the tear film layer involved.
The aim of treatment is to treat the underlying cause, manage the inflammation and conserve tears. In some cases, an underlying health issue (e.g., Rheumatoid Arthritis) may be causing the problem and your ophthalmologist may need to refer you to the specialist concerned. If a medication is causing your dry eyes, your doctor may recommend an alternative drug that doesn’t cause side effects.
Simple self-care tips: