February 10, 2012
In the winter, eye doctors see much more Dry Eye Syndrome. Cold, dry outdoor air and dry indoor heat can cause eye pain and blurred vision. Here's some useful information about Dry Eye, and some things you can do about it.
American Optometric Association provides some overview information on dry eye.
The association says that dry eye is a condition in which there are insufficient tears to lubricate and nourish the eye. Tears are necessary for maintaining the health of the front surface of the eye and for providing clear vision.
People with dry eyes either do not produce enough tears or have a poor quality of tears. Dry eye is a common and often chronic problem, particularly in older adults.
In other words, dry eye is pretty much like the name describes. And not enough, or poor-quality tears, are the reason.
Tears are more than water. In fact, they have three layers: oil, water, and mucus. Each layer protects and nourishes the cornea (the front surface of the eye). A smooth oil layer helps keep the water layer wet; the mucus layer helps spread the tears evenly over the cornea.
Each time you blink, glands in and around the eyelids create tears. From there, they spread across your corneas. And these tears are beautiful things. They help wash away grit, pollen, and other material that shouldn't be in your eyes. They also keep your eye membranes moist, smooth, and clear.
The most common cause of dry eye syndrome is not having enough water in your tears. But any imbalance in the three ingredients of tears can make them evaporate too fast, or spread unevenly over the cornea. Then dry eye symptoms can develop.
Dry Eye Syndrome is also called keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS).
Common causes of dry eye syndrome are:
All these can lead to dry eyes. Gender is a factor, too. Women are more likely to have dry eyes. Pregnancy, birth control, or hormonal changes of menopause are the main reasons for this.
There are also environmental causes. In this case, winter. Wind, smoke, and dry climates can all cause dry eyes. And in the winter, what do we have? All those things. We escape the cold wind by going into houses that are extra-dry from the heat being turned on. We enjoy those nice fires—those nice fires that, unfortunately, produce eye-irritating wood smoke.
Some common symptoms of dry eye syndrome are:
If you're feeling these on a regular basis, it's important to find out if you might have dry eyes. In some cases, dry eyes can damage the corneas and impair vision. A trip to your eye doctor is the best place to start.
Your eye doctor has different treatments for dry eyes that work to restore or maintain the normal amount of tears in the eye. These treatments can minimize dryness, its related discomfort, and help maintain eye health.
Other things you can do, and should do, even if you are getting treatment:
Dry eye may be caused by rheumatologic/connective tissue diseases. Sjogren's syndrome is a key cause and if you have dry eye that is significant or continues to worsen despite over-the-counter treatment, you should see your doctor for further evaluation.
And of course, if your dry eyes get worse, see your eye doctor. Your eyes are worth it.