Dry eyes are usually caused by a problem with the quality of the tear film that lubricates the eyes and is one of the most common problems we encounter. The three components that make up the tear film are: the mucus layer, the middle aqueous layer and the outer lipid layer. The mucus layer coats the cornea and which forms a foundation so that the tear film can adhere to the eye. The middle aqueous layer, which is made up of 98% water, provides moisture and supplies oxygen and other important nutrients to the cornea. The outer lipid layer consists of an oil that seals the tear film and helps prevent evaporation of the aqueous tear layer.
Tears are formed in several glands around the eye. The lacrimal gland, located under the upper eyelid, is where the aqueous layer is produced. Other smaller glands in the lids make the oil and mucus layers. The eyelids spread the tears over the eye with each blink.
One of the most common reasons for dryness is normal aging process. As we grow older, our bodies produce 60% less oil at age 65, than at 18 years old. Without as much oil to seal the aqueous layer, the tear film evaporates more rapidly causing dry areas on the cornea. Hormonal changes can also alter the tear film composition and function. Hot, dry or windy climates also can cause dry eyes. Contact lens wearers can suffer from dryness because the lens can absorb the tear film causing proteins to form on the surface of the lens.
Symptoms of dry eyes can include itching, burning, irritation, redness, blurred vision and excessive tearing. The doctors at Ophthalmology Consultants use a step-wise approach to treating dry eye. The first is to supplement the deficient tear film with commercially available drops that closely resemble natural tears. We also recommend taking Omega 3 fish oil supplements to help augment the natural tear film. If this is insufficient , then punctal plugs or prescription eye drops such as Restasis can often help. In severe dry eyes, a combination therapy can often help alleviate the symptoms.