Watering Eyes this Winter?
What causes dry eyes?
The natural beauty of autumn and winter seasons is here. We see the vibrant colors of the foliage and feel the crisp air blanket our homes and communities. All of this beauty may bring tears to your eyes. But wait a minute. You’re not crying, you have dry eyes!
Have you ever walked outdoors and felt your eyes water uncontrollably? Do you plan ahead and need a stack of tissues in your coat pocket just in case you get a case of the dreaded waterfall that comes gushing out of your eyes? Believe it or not, you have what Optometric Physicians diagnose as Dry Eye Syndrome. What’s that about and how do we improve your symptoms?
Dry eyes can result from an improper balance of tear production and drainage.
- Inadequate amount of tears—Tears are produced by several glands in and around the eyelids. Tear production tends to diminish with age, with various medical conditions, or as a side effect of certain medicines. Environmental conditions such as wind and dry climates can also affect tear volume by increasing tear evaporation. When the normal amount of tear production decreases or tears evaporate too quickly from the eyes, symptoms of dry eye can develop.
- Poor quality of tears—Tears are made up of three layers: oil, water, and mucus. Each component serves a function in protecting and nourishing the front surface of the eye. A smooth oil layer helps to prevent evaporation of the water layer, while the mucin layer functions in spreading the tears evenly over the surface of the eye. If the tears evaporate too quickly or do not spread evenly over the cornea due to deficiencies with any of the three tear layers, dry eye symptoms can develop.
The most common form of dry eyes is due to an inadequate amount of the water layer of tears. This condition, called keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS), is also referred to as dry eye syndrome.
People with dry eyes may experience symptoms of irritated, gritty, scratchy, or burning eyes, a feeling of something in their eyes, excess watering, and blurred vision. Advanced dry eyes may damage the front surface of the eye and impair vision.
The development of dry eyes can have many causes. They include:
- Age—dry eye is a part of the natural aging process. The majority of people over age 65 experience some symptoms of dry eyes.
- Gender—women are more likely to develop dry eyes due to hormonal changes caused by pregnancy, the use of oral contraceptives, and menopause.
- Medications—certain medicines, including antihistamines, decongestants, blood pressure medications and antidepressants, can reduce the amount of tears produced in the eyes.
- Medical conditions—persons with rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes and thyroid problems are more likely to have symptoms of dry eyes. Also, problems with inflammation of the eyelids (blepharitis), inflammation of the surfaces of the eye, or the inward or outward turning of eyelids can cause dry eyes to develop.
- Environmental conditions—exposure to smoke, wind and dry climates can increase tear evaporation resulting in dry eye symptoms. Failure to blink regularly, such as when staring at a computer screen for long periods of time, can also contribute to drying of the eyes.
- Other factors—long term use of contact lenses can be a factor in the development of dry eyes. Refractive eye surgeries, such as LASIK, can cause decreased tear production and dry eyes.Steps you can take to reduce symptoms of dry eyes include:
- Remembering to blink regularly when reading or staring at a computer screen for long periods of time.
- Increasing the level of humidity in the air at work and at home.
- Wearing sunglasses outdoors, particularly those with wrap around frame design, to reduce exposure to drying winds and sun.
- Using nutritional supplements containing essential fatty acids may help decrease dry eye symptoms in some people. Ask your optometric physician if the use of dietary supplements could be of help for your dry eye problems.
- Avoiding becoming dehydrated by drinking plenty of water (8 to 10 glasses) each day.SOURCE: American Optometric Association