Dry eye syndrome (DES) is actually considered to be part of a broader problem known as ocular surface disease (OSD).
Ocular surface disease and dry eye syndrome are classified by a disruption in the normal tear distribution caused by decreased tear production or increased tear evaporation.
Tears are produced to lubricate the eye for clear and comfortable vision. The front surface of the eye, the cornea, is the most sensitive part of the body, and natural tears have nutrients and protective qualities that keep the eye healthy.
The tear film is actually three layers thick. The first layer is made of mucin produced by the cells in the cornea. The middle layer is aqueous, or water, produced by the lacrimal gland under the upper eyelid. The outer layer of the tear film is oil made from glands in the upper and lower eyelids.
Symptoms of dry eyes depend on which part of the tear film is affected. Most patients with dry eye problems complain of grittiness, redness and itching, burning, watering, and fluctuating vision. A lot of patients mistake dry eye problems for allergies. Dry eye problems can occur in men or women, but are more common in women, and usually more frequent around menopause.
Dry eye treatment depends on the cause. If the aqueous layer is the cause, preservative-free artificial tears or prescription immunosuppressant drops can help. If the oily layer is the cause, treatment is geared toward improved eyelid health and better oil secretion from the lids.
Causes of dry eyes are increasing age, certain medications, skin problems around the eyelids and diseases like lupus, MS, adult-onset acne called rosacea, rheumatoid arthritis, and computer/smartphone use.
Dry eye diagnosis and treatment have greatly improved over the last several years. You no longer have to deal with uncomfortable eyes and fluctuation vision. Ask your optometrist about the prevention and treatment of chronic dry eye problems.