A feeling of dry eyes can happen at any age. The older we get, the more likely dry eyes become. Tens of millions of Americans have some degree of dry eye symptoms, with nearly half being age 50 or older. Of those, more than three million are women. Dry eyes are a common source of discomfort. They can also be a symptom of a more serious problem that can lead to damage on the surface of the eye if left untreated.
Our eyes are naturally kept moist by a thin layer of tears which are necessary for good vision. These tears consist of three parts: an oily or lipid layer, a watery layer, and a mucus layer. The ratio between these parts is critical to maintaining the best consistency in our tears. Your eyes may feel dry if you are not producing enough tears, or if your tears are the wrong consistency and evaporate too quickly. A variety of other factors can contribute to the feeling that your eyes are dry:
• Inflammation – Swelling or irritation on the surface of the eye, the conjunctiva (covering over the white part of the eye), or the glands that produce tears may result in dry eyes.
• Consistency of Tears – Any disease that affects any of the three components of your tears may make your eyes feel dry.
• Medications – Dry eyes may be a side effect of some medications including antihistamines, decongestants, tranquilizers, some blood pressure medications, birth control pills, anti-depressants, and some Parkinson’s medications.
• Hormone Replacement – Women who are taking only estrogen are 70% more likely to have dry eyes, while women taking estrogen and progesterone are 30% more likely to have dry eyes than women not getting hormone replacements.
• LASIK – Refractive surgery such as LASIK may damage tear ducts and cause dry eyes. These symptoms usually resolve within 6 months after surgery.
• Allergies – Dry eyes may be associated with allergies, or may be caused by allergy treatments.
• Immune Disorders – Patients with disorders such as Sjögren's syndrome, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis my also experience dry eyes.
• Vitamins – Taking excessive or insufficient doses vitamins can cause dry eyes.
• Blinking – Not blinking often enough and not closing the eyes completely when blinking or sleeping may result in dry eyes. This can also be a side effect of cosmetic surgery if they eyes are no longer able to completely close.
• Contact Lenses – Some contact lens patients complain that their eyes are scratchy and dry. If you wear contacts and feel that your eyes are dry, tell your eye doctor so your lenses can be checked.
Symptoms of Dry Eye
• Stinging or burning of the eye
• Sandy or gritty feeling like something is in your eye
• Excessive tearing followed by very dry eye periods
• Stringy discharge from the eye
• Sensitivity to light
• Pain and redness of the eye
• Times when your vision is blurry
• Heavy eyelids
• Not being able to cry when you feel emotional
• Uncomfortable contact lenses – typically after 6 hours or more wearing your lenses
• Eye fatigue
• Able to spend less time doing activities that are vision intensive, such as reading or working on the computer
• Blurred vision after focusing for a long time on a nearby object or task, such as reading a book
If your eyes are dry, check with your eye doctor to make sure your eyes are healthy and there are no medical issues causing the dryness. Your doctor will be able to recommend solutions for dry eyes to make your eyes feel more comfortable and to protect your vision.