What Can I Do About My Dry Eyes?
Here in the desert, we know a thing or two about dry conditions! Sure, we’re not quite as parched in Tucson as some of our neighbors to the north and northwest, but that’s just statistics. If you grew up in, say, the Southeast, Northwest, or Great Lakes region—where rain and occasionally unbearable humidity are par for the course—it’s like a completely different planet.
That doesn’t mean everything should be dry, however! Just because the atmosphere is on the arid side doesn’t mean your eyes should be, too.
Dry eyes can be extremely uncomfortable and irritating. Itching, burning, and stinging sensations are common. You might be more sensitive to light, or have difficulty seeing clearly or putting in your contacts. Mucus might build up around your eyes. In severe cases, dry eyes can even lead to infection or cause permanent damage to your eyes, particularly your cornea.
Are your eyes constantly, annoyingly dry? What’s causing it? And what can you do about it?
How Are Eyes Supposed to Stay Lubricated?
It’s all about your tears. Or specifically, your basal tears.
Your body actually produces three different types of tears. “Psychic tears” are the ones that you shed when you accidentally drop something on your foot, or watch a movie that’s just so sad. “Reflex tears” get pumped out on short notice to flush out irritants like dirt, stray eyelashes, or irritating vapors (like cutting onions).
But the basal tears are the real workhorse, constantly tending to the thankless task of keeping your cornea lubricated, protected, and nourished with essential vitamins and minerals. Basal tears keep your eyes healthy and dust-free, and even act as part of the immune system to prevent infections. You might not notice them—you might not have known they exist until just now—but they are a critical component of good eye health.
What Causes Dry Eyes?
In order to know how to help you fix your dry eyes, we first need to figure out what’s causing them in the first place
Broadly speaking, there are three “big picture” causes of dry eyes, each of which can be the result of a complex set of underlying problems.
You don’t produce enough basal tears. Otherwise known as keratoconjunctivitis sicca (to vocab show-offs), a reduction in tear production is a fairly common and normal consequence of aging. However, there are also a number of medical conditions (including diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid disease), dietary issues (vitamin A deficiency), or medication reactions (antihistamines, blood pressure pills, decongestants, birth control, hormone replacement) that impair tear production as well.
Your tears are evaporating too quickly. Or in other words, you produce enough tears, but they don’t stick around as long as they need to. Often, the problem is temporary and caused by circumstance—wind in your eyes on a dry day, for example, or not blinking enough when you stare at your book or phone screen. However, sometimes the problem is with the structure of your eyelid.
Your tears are of poor quality. Many people think that tears are just water, but they’re actually a complex, layered mix of oil, water, and mucus. In order to do their job correctly, basal tears need all three layers in the correct proportion. If the composition is out of balance—for example, due to blocked oil glands—the tears have a harder time keeping your eyes adequately lubricated.
How Do I Fix Dry Eyes?
Stop in and see Dr. Z at Head to Toe Healthcare. We do a lot more than just routine eye exams and updating your prescription. We love to help patients by treating their acute eye conditions like dry eye!
You’ll get a comprehensive eye exam so that we can determine exactly why your eyes are dry and how serious the problem is. We might measure the volume of your tears or test their chemical composition in order to make the diagnosis.
In milder cases, it may be enough simply to manage symptoms when they crop up. You can keep a bottle of over-the-counter eyedrops and use them whenever your eyes start to feel dry or irritated. However, if your dry eyes are more serious or persistent, we’ll do what we can to treat the cause rather than the symptoms.
Obviously, the best treatment will depend on the cause. Some options include:
- Prescription medications to reduce inflammation in the eyelids or cornea and/or stimulate tear production.
- Narrowing or closing your tear ducts to prevent tears from draining as quickly.
- Switching your contact lens material to one that can help prevent dry eyes.
- Unblocking oil glands.
Certain home care options may also be effective, including running a humidifier at night, taking certain dietary supplements, or even just taking regular breaks during screen time, reading, or detail-oriented work.
The bottom line is that we absolutely can help you, and there’s no reason to wait—you want to get help well before there’s any chance of corneal damage or eye infection! To book an appointment with us, please give our office a call at (520) 545-0202.
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