By Dr. Carissa M. Barina, Ophthalmologist
Do you suffer from teary, watery eyes? You may actually have dry eye, a common condition that can lead to serious problems if not treated.
What causes it? Well, the eye surface is normally bathed in tears that are produced continuously. Tear film insufficiency is a common cause of dry eye in which the eye does not make enough tears to nourish and maintain moisture of the eye surface. So the eye dries out.
This triggers nerve endings on the eye surface to send messages to the brain that more tears are needed. Then the Lacrimal gland, or tear gland, quickly floods the eye with watery tears. The eye overflows with these poor-quality tears, providing temporary relief, but the moisture is not completely restored to the eye surface.
Sound confusing? Think of a dry, dusty desert. When a downpour does finally come, the dry earth cannot absorb the moisture and the land floods.
Although tearing is not the only symptom of dry eye, the more pronounced the dryness, the more severe the symptoms. Other symptoms of dry eye include stinging, burning, scratchiness, blurred vision and eye infections.
So how do you know if you have dry eye? Dry eye is diagnosed during an eye exam. Typically, tests including a Shirmer test, and a Tear Osmolarity test, which measures the amount of tears your eyes produce and how concentrated the tears are. Additional testing may be necessary, including blood work to screen for underlying medical conditions that might cause dry eye — such hyperthyroidism or Sjogrens Syndrome.
Depending on the severity of the dryness, treatment options include replacement tears or artificial tears; Restasis™, a prescription eye drop that stimulates your own tear production; or punctual plugs that keep what little tears your eye does produce on the eye surface longer.
Although dry eye is treatable, it currently is not curable. So interval follow-up appointments with your eye doctor are necessary to monitor your response to therapy and tailor your treatment regimen to your specific needs.
If you are experiencing any symptoms of dry eye described above, please contact us to schedule an appointment.