Dry eye syndrome occurs if you do not produce enough tears or your tears evaporate too quickly leaving your eyes dried out, red, swollen and itchy.
Our tears lubricate the area between our eyes and eyelids when we blink. This lubrication has a number of jobs: it washes away dust, keeps our eyes comfortable and contains special properties to kill bacteria and fend off infections.
If our eyes dry out then these vital tasks get disrupted leading to a range of symptoms.
- light sensitivity
- deteriorating vision
What Causes Dry Eyes
The condition can occur if the glands that produce the tears become blocked or damaged. External factors such as a hot or windy climate can also cause dry eyes. And patients can get dry eyes as a side-effect of medicines, due to hormonal changes, due to ageing or as a symptom of another illness. Once the eyes are no longer protected by the ‘tear film’, the immune system kicks in to try to compensate but in doing so it causes the eyes to become red, swollen and dry.
How to treat dry eyes
If the condition is mild it can be treated with lubricant eye drops, gels or ointments available without a prescription. These replace the missing water. For frequent use, aim for one which is preservative-free so as not to cause inflammation. ‘Liposomal sprays’ which are available over-the-counter can be used to reduce evaporation from the surface of the eye. In severe cases an ophthalmologist (eye specialist) can prescribe steroid eye drops or oral ‘tetracyclines’ available on prescription to reduce inflammation. In the most severe cases an immunosuppressing agent called Ciclosporin may be given or surgery may be offered.
A diet rich in omega-3 fats (found in oily fish) keeps the gland function of the eyes healthy. Eyelid massage, warm compresses and a humidifier to keep the air moist can also help.