What is Dry Eye?

Normal tear fluid lubricates your eyes and keeps them comfortable. Dry eye is a chronic condition that occurs when your eyes either don’t make enough tears or when those tears are poor quality, which means they dry up too quickly, leaving the front of your eye feeling dry and gritty. The condition is very uncomfortable. While severe cases can cause long-term damage, thankfully they’re very rare.

Dry eye usually affects both eyes, although one may be worse than the other, and once you’ve had it, it’s likely to return even after it’s been treated. Fortunately, there are several treatments available, many of which you can use in the comfort of your home.

The tear film comprises three layers:

  • Mucin layer: helps tears to stick to your eye
  • Aqueous layer: provides moisture and cleans your eye
  • Oily outer layer: slows tear evaporation. This final layer is produced by meibomian glands in your eyelids

Who’s at Risk of Dry Eye?

Women and people over the age of 50 seem to be more predisposed to dry eye.

  • Age: As you age, your eyelids become less effective at spreading your tears across your eye as you blink. In addition, the glands in your eyes that make the oily part of your tears becomes less effective. Sometimes these glands can be blocked and your eyelids red and irritated, leading to a condition called blepharitis.
  • Drugs and health problems: Changes in hormone levels, during the menopause or while using the contraceptive pill, can increase the chances of dry eye in women. If this is the case, speak to your doctor or contact Taank for advice. Autoimmune diseases can also result in dry eye.
  • Smokers: Smoking has been linked to dry eye, both as a potential cause and something that aggravates the condition.

What are the Symptoms of Dry Eye?

If you have dry eye, chances are you’ll experience some or all of these symptoms in your eyes:

  • A sandy, gritty feeling
  • General soreness
  • Discomfort, even pain
  • Itching and burning sensation
  • Short-term blurred vision
  • Watery eyes, as if you’re crying

If you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms, please book an eye appointment.

Treating Dry Eye in Cambridge

If you have been diagnosed with dry eye or you have symptoms, you’ll be pleased to know that there are several ways to regain comfort and manage this frustrating condition.

  • Keep your eyelids clean: Gently clean your eyelids to remove bacteria that can lead to dry eye symptoms.
  • Avoid make-up: Eyeliner, particularly when applied to the rim of the eyelids, can block the glands that produce the oily, lubricating component of your tears.
  • Review your environment: Central heating, draughts and air conditioning can all accelerate evaporation of tears and make your eyes feel drier than ever. Turn down your central heating, redirect car air vents away from your face, and consider using a humidifier to slow down evaporation.
  • Use ocular lubricants: Eye lubricants come in the form of drops, gels, ointments or a spray, and are available over the counter. The best don’t contain preservatives, or at least very gentle preservatives, which helps to reduce irritation.
    • If drops wash out of your eye too quickly, choose a gel, which is thicker so stays in your eye longer.
    • Ointment is best if your eyes dry out at night because you don’t fully close your eyelids. Since ointments can also blur your vision they’re best used at night while you sleep.
    • Sprays help replenish the oily layer of your tears so they’re great if you know that your tears evaporate too quickly. Apply onto the edges of your eyelids when your eyes are shut and when you open your eyes the solution will spread across the surface of your eye.
    • Use an eye bag, a heat pad that unblocks the glands in your eyelids and helps produce more of the oily part of the tears. Ask your optician for more information.
  • Regular eye exams: Stay on top of your condition and look out for any related eye problems such as blepharitis.
  • Punctum plugs: Tears drain away into your nose via small drainage channels in your eyelids. Small punctum plugs can be inserted into the holes in your lower eyelids to prevent drainage. Ask your Cambridge optician for more information.
  • Take screen breaks: There’s no evidence that looking at screens does damage to your eyes, but it can make you blink less often. When you use a computer, remember to look away regularly, even for a few seconds, to give your eyes a break.

Dry eye FAQs

  • Why do my eyes water but still feel dry? Typically, the time for the tear film to last between blinks in over 12 seconds. When the tear film breaks up too soon, the sensitive surface of your eye is exposed and you’ll ‘cry’. This frequently happens in the cold, the wind, or if you forget to blink when you’re looking as a screen. Crying dilutes the oily layer of the tear film, the tear evaporates, and your eyes feel dry. If your eyes water a lot, find a product that enhances the oily layer of your tear film to reduce evaporation.

Ask an Expert

The Taank team regularly treats patients with dry eye. If you’re experiencing symptoms or have any questions concerning eye health, book an eye exam today.

What is dry eye?