Our eyes need tears to stay healthy and comfortable. If your eyes do not make enough tears, it is called dry eye. Dry eye also happens when tears are not made of the right mix of elements (see diagram below), or when the tear film is not as it should be.
When you blink, a film of tears spreads over the eye. This keeps the eye’s surface smooth and clear. The tear film is important for good vision.
The tear film is made of three layers:
Having a lot of tears in your eyes with “dry eye” might sound odd. But your eyes make more tears when they are irritated by dry eye.
People tend to make fewer tears as they get older due to hormonal changes. Both men and women can get dry eye. However, it is more common in women—especially those who have gone through menopause.
Here are some other causes of dry eye.
Tell your ophthalmologist about all the prescription and non-prescription medicines you take.
Your ophthalmologist will begin with an eye exam. He or she will look at your eyelids and the surface of the eye. They will also check how you blink.
There are many different tests that help diagnose dry eyes. Your ophthalmologist may do a test that measures the quality or the thickness of your tears. He or she may also measure how quickly you produce tears.
Adding tears. Your ophthalmologist might tell you to use artificial tears. These are eye drops that are like your own tears. You can use artificial tears as often as you need to. You can buy artificial tears without a prescription. There are many brands. Try a few until you find a brand that works best for you.
If you use artificial tears more than six times a day or are allergic to preservatives, you should use preservative-free tears. This is because if the tears with preservatives are used a lot, these chemicals may start to irritate your eyes.
Saving tears. Your ophthalmologist may suggest blocking your tear ducts. This makes your natural tears stay in your eyes longer. Tiny silicone or gel plugs (called punctal plugs) may be inserted in your tear ducts. These plugs can be removed later as needed. Your ophthalmologist could also recommend surgery that permanently closes your tear ducts.
Increasing your tears. Your ophthalmologist might have you use a special eyedrop medication. This helps your eyes make more of their own tears.
Treating dry eye culprits. If your eyes are irritated, your ophthalmologist can treat those problems. They may recommend:
Tears keep your eyes healthy and comfortable. Dry eye is when you do not produce enough tears or the right type of tears.
Your ophthalmologist might suggest using artificial tears or ointments. He or she may also prescribe eye drops that treat your dry eye symptoms or help your eyes make tears. Other treatment options include blocking your tear ducts with tiny plugs or with surgery. This keeps tears in your eyes longer.
Avoiding overly warm, dry and windy places can help combat dry eye. Also, some people find relief by adding omega-3 fatty acids to their diets.
It is important to see your ophthalmologist regularly to check for eye and vision changes.
If you have any questions about your vision, speak with your ophthalmologist. He or she is committed to protecting your sight.