Dry Eye Disease (DED), sometimes referred to as dysfunctional tear syndrome, occurs when tears cannot produce sufficient moisture to provide necessary lubrication when blinking. To produce tears, our eyes have a tear film that consists of three layers: an oily layer, a watery layer, and a mucus layer. When one of these layers is not producing the correct amount of oil, water, or mucus, there may be a lack in tear production, thus leading to the development of dry eye¹.
What are the Symptoms of Dry Eye Disease (DED)?
Here are some of the most common symptoms:
- Stinging or burning in eyes
- Blurred vision
- Irritated or red eyes
- Feeling as if something is in your eye
- Difficulty driving at night
- Pain while wearing contacts
- Strings of mucus in your eye
- Overproduction of tears¹
Who is at Risk of Getting Dry Eye?
Dry eye is a very common condition, experienced by more than 16 million Americans with an additional 6 million estimated undiagnosed cases.² Individuals who may be predisposed to the condition include people over age 50, recipients of LASIK eye surgery, people who have worn contact lenses for a long time, those exposed to smoke or very dry and windy climate conditions, and those who work on computers for prolonged periods of time.
In addition, people who suffer from specific diseases are more susceptible to developing the condition including those who have rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren’s syndrome, sarcoidosis, thyroid disease, and lupus.
Even certain medications can cause dry eye such as diuretics, beta-blockers, allergy and cold medicines, birth control pills, sleeping pills, antidepressants, and heartburn medications¹. A recent study indicated, “A population-based study of 2,481 individuals between the ages of 64 and 84 estimated that 62% of dry eye cases in the elderly were caused by systemic medications, rather than the comorbid conditions themselves”³.
How to Diagnose Dry Eye?
To diagnose DED, you can get an eye examination from an optometrist or ophthalmologist. During the test, the optometrist or ophthalmologist looks at how you blink, they check your eyelids and the outside of your eyes. The doctor may also perform more in-depth tests such as tear film breakup time (how quickly the tears you have break up or evaporate), tear composition, and the volume of your tears. Blood tests may also be done to rule out any other underlying issues that may be causing dry eye⁴.
How to Treat Dry Eye?
Tears are essential to the way the eye functions, and, without adequate tear production, you are at risk for several complications such as “eye infection, corneal ulcers, and vision loss”⁴. Doctors will suggest different treatment options depending on the severity of your dry eye. Some patients may only need hot compresses and artificial tear drops to treat their dry eyes, while others with more persistent symptoms may need prescription eye drops or scleral lenses (a special lens that traps moisture onto the eye’s surface)⁴.
Ultimately, Dry Eye Disease is a common yet complex condition that can be caused by many different factors. Thankfully, there are treatments to combat your symptoms to help make living with DED more manageable.
Here are some helpful video resources from the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) to help you better understand Dry Eye:
If you are experiencing dry eye symptoms, make sure to schedule an eye examination soon. You can find a list of eye care providers near you by using our Eye Care Provider Search Tool on the Member Portal or the NVA Vision Benefits Mobile App.
Tear Film Video: https://youtu.be/nGGF_PecOww
Tear Film Image: https://mydryeye.ca/components-of-a-tear-film/