Dry Eyes: What Are the Causes and Symptoms

Many Americans will suffer through dry eyes at some point, while others may develop a more chronic and persistent condition called Dry Eye Syndrome (DES). Any kind of dry eye condition is painful because dry eyes cause your eyes to feel extremely itchy and irritable, and may also cause poor vision. That sudden urge to rub and scratch your eyes can make it even more difficult to focus. Do these symptoms sound familiar to you? If so, you may be suffering from dry eyes, a rather annoying and common condition that can interfere with your lifestyle in many ways.

But what exactly causes dry eye syndrome and what can you do about them?

What Are Dry Eyes?

Before we dive into what dry eyes are, let’s first talk about tears and their purpose. Tears are a combination of water, oils, and mucus that lubricate the surfaces of your eyes. They protect them from infection and clear up your vision. Think of them like the windshield washer fluid equivalent for your eyes.

Interestingly, people with Dry Eye Syndrome sometimes complain that their eyes are tearing all the time. That’s because the tears have plenty of water, but are low on the oils that make the tears stick to the eyes. And since the tears drip off the eye, the eyes actually become dry.

In some other cases, the cause of DES is because your eyes don’t get enough tears to stay lubricated, which causes them to get dry and irritated. You might get dry eyes after watching television for long periods of time, or looking at a computer screen for too long. The condition affects millions of Americans each year and is most common in older women.

What Are the Causes of Dry Eyes?

The most common cause of dry eyes is keratoconjunctivitis sicca, the medical term for insufficient tear production. Its causes can include:

  • Aging
  • Medical conditions such as vitamin A deficiency or diabetes
  • Diseases such as Sjogren’s syndrome or rheumatoid arthritis
  • Side effects from medication like antihistamines, decongestants, birth control, and antidepressants
  • Laser eye surgery
  • Wind and dry air evaporating the tears (common in air-conditioned rooms or airplanes)
  • Wearing contact lenses

Our eyes are sensitive organs, and even the slightest changes in lubrication can cause irritation and a change in our vision.

What Are the Symptoms of Dry Eyes?

You might be suffering from dry eyes if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Stinging or burning sensation in the eyes
  • Blurred vision
  • Redness
  • Excessive sensitivity to light
  • Difficulty working or reading
  • Eye infections and inflammation
  • Tears rolling down your face

Luckily, there are many ways you can treat your dry eyes. There is no need to suffer through a decreased quality of life because of them.

How Can I Treat Dry Eyes?

Sometimes small lifestyle changes are all that’s needed to help you with your dry eyes. Some of these changes may include:

  • Installing a humidifier in your home to hydrate dry air.
  • Avoiding smoking, which can exacerbate dry eyes
  • Taking long breaks during long tasks, especially ones that require intense concentration.
  • Eating vitamin A-rich foods such as carrots and broccoli. Also, eating fish and walnuts, which are high in omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Positioning your computer screen slightly below your eye level. This ensures you won’t have to open your eyes wider to see the whole display.
  • Over the counter “artificial tears” eye drops.

If you can’t eliminate your dry eyes with over the counter medicines, or by adjusting your diet or environment, your Optometrist may be able to help. Here are a few common treatments for dry eyes:

  • Eye drops to help with inflammation in your cornea
  • Prescription drops that help produce tears, such as Xiidra or Restasis.
  • Specialized inserts that function like artificial tears
  • Medication to help with eyelid inflammation
  • Surgery to alter the way your tear ducts function
  • Eye masks that help unblock your oil glands
  • Light therapy and eyelid massages
  • Specialized scleral contact lenses that help to hold moisture on the eye
  • Punctal plugs that slow the drainage of the natural tears

You should consult with your Optometrist to determine which treatment is best for you.

Should I See My Optometrist?

If you believe your dry eyes are not getting better with lifestyle changes, or getting worse and negatively impacting your ability to work and live, consider speaking with your Optometrist. Dr. Barry Leonard and Associates is Los Angeles’s premier eye clinic. His team can help you solve all types of optical issues, eye diseases, and more.

Whether you need an eye exam, a quick remedy for itchy or dry eyes, or any other eye care needs, Dr. Leonard and his team have a solution for you. Make an appointment online today or call 818-891-6711

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