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Most people are familiar with the symptoms of dry eyes: redness, itchiness, blurred vision, a feeling that something is in the eye, and more. This mild and occasional discomfort is usually associated with an environmental trigger such as lack of sleep, too much time in front of the computer, or having a lot of homework to do. However, some people have chronic dry eye, a condition in which the eyes do not produce enough or the right type of tears. The causes of dry eye of this type are less well understood, although there are definite risk factors.
The majority of people with dry eye are over the age of 50, and twice as many women as men are affected. Contact lens wearers often report dry eyes, but whether the contacts are the cause of this or have only made an underlying condition worse is unknown. Environmental triggers are common and include things like prolonged computer use, smoking, and spending a lot of time in extremely dry environments such as airplanes, air conditioned buildings, or arid climates.
There are three main components in normal tears: the lipid (oily) part, the aqueous (watery) part, and the mucin (mucous) part. Each of these components serves a function. The oily component helps prevent rapid evaporation, the mucous helps keep the tear film in place, and the water provides the volume of liquid. Depending on which component is lacking, you might be diagnosed with one of the several types of dry eye.
Types of dry eye are categorized by which component is lacking. The lipid component of tears is produced in the meibomian glands, located in the eyelids, and it is relatively common for these glands to get clogged and not secrete enough oil. The resulting tears evaporate rapidly, leading to a condition called evaporative dry eye. The lacrimal glands produce the watery component of tears. When these glands fail to function properly, the result is a condition called an aqueous deficiency dry eye.
Although it is usually believed to be a chronic condition, dry eye is relatively easy to treat. Milder cases may be able to be managed through environmental changes, while drugs and in-office procedures are available for more serious cases. Depending on what you have been diagnosed with, your eye care professional may recommend different dry eye treatment options.
Unblocking clogged meibomian glands may help people with evaporative dry eye. Placing a small plug in the tear duct to reduce drainage may resolve some types of dry eye by forcing tears to stay in the eye longer. Reducing the amount of time you wear contact lenses or looking up more often from the computer screen are examples of environmental changes that may reduce your symptoms.
If you have dry eyes, you should talk to your eye care professional today. While the causes of dry eye may or may not be within your control, dry eye treatment can improve your condition immensely. Here in Williamsburg, Eye Center of Virginia offers complete eye care, including diagnosis and treatment of dry eyes.