What is dry eye syndrome?
Dry eye syndrome is a condition that affects the surface of the cornea and the conjunctiva due to a shortage of lacrimal fluid or because it is of poor quality. As a result, the surface of the eye is not well lubricated, which can lead to eye discomfort, vision problems and injuries to the cornea and conjunctiva.
What causes it?
Dry eye occurs when the lacrimal gland does not secrete enough lacrimal fluid to keep the eye lubricated.
The most common causes are:
- Decreased secretion due to age. Aging causes atrophy in the cells that are always producing lacrimal fluid
- Hormonal changes in women (pregnancy, oral contraceptive use and menopause)
- Environmental factors that produce significant evaporation (wind, air conditioners, heaters, etc)
- Prolonged reading, which reduces blinking and results in the inadequate distribution of lacrimal fluid and its increased evaporation
- Some systemic diseases (Sjögren’s syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus erythematosus, etc)
- The use of contact lenses
- Some ophthalmic surgery procedures
- Some diseases that scar the surface of the eye (such as severe viral conjunctivitis)
How can it be prevented?
Due to the serious consequences of dry eye (keratitis, scarring, loss of vision, corneal ulcers), regular specific ophthalmic check-ups are recommended.
Detection and early treatment are essential for the improvement and prevention of eye damage. Most at risk are the elderly and women in phases of hormonal change.
Some useful measures exist to prevent dryness of the eyes caused by environmental factors:
- Avoid exposure to air currents that can cause evaporation of lacrimal fluid (electric fans directed at the face or driving with the windows open, and always wear protective sunglasses when outside, etc.)
- Avoid dry atmospheres by using humidifiers
- Protect yourself from environmental pollution and avoid certain places like beaches and the countryside on windy days, as well as household dust, tobacco smoke and solvents
- Force yourself to blink several times a day and wipe your tear glands often with a towel or makeup removal sponge
Dry eye syndrome causes irritation, itching, redness and the sensation of a foreign body or grit on the surface of the eye, as well as fatigue, heavy eyelids and watery eyes.
Although it may seem contradictory, excessive watering of the eyes is due to inadequate and insufficient lubrication. Our body protects itself by ‘flooding’ the eye surface with poor quality tears that do not provide the necessary nutrients and protective factors.
When it is not possible to directly treat the cause of dry eye, artificial tears and lubricating ointments can help to control dryness and irritation.
If these treatments do not alleviate symptoms, there is the option of conserving the patient’s lacrimal fluid by blocking the tear ducts and inserting a very small plug to prevent the rapid drainage of tears, thus helping to conserve moisture and protect the eye. Patients with more severe dry eye may require additional treatments.