Are you frequently experiencing a burning and itching sensation on your eyes? Does it even hurt sometimes? Do they appear red and irritated? You might have a condition called dry eye syndrome. It is a common disorder of eyes, specifically the tear film, affecting a lot of people in the general population, especially those older than 40 years of age. How does one acquire it? How do you treat it?
First, some basic concepts. Tears are not just for showing emotions, as you will see. They are actually necessary for maintaining the health of the front surface of the eye and for providing clear vision. Normally, with each blink of the eyelids, tears are spread across the front surface of the eye which then provides lubrication. The tears also reduce the risk of eye infection, wash away foreign material, and keep the surface of the eyes smooth and clear. They do not overflow because tears exit the eyes into small drainage ducts which then drain in the back of the nose. This explains why sometimes we need to sniff when crying.
In dry eye syndrome, the tears are not enough in amount or quality to lubricate and nourish the eyes. As a result, the cornea becomes dry, irritated, and red in color. Infection and inflammation may then set in.
People with dry eyes either do not produce enough tears or have a poor quality of tears. Dry eyes can be a chronic condition as well, but your physician can prescribe eye ointments or eye drops to keep your eyes lubricated and prevent your vision from being affected.
One of the primary approaches used to manage and treat mild cases of dry eyes is indeed adding tears using over-the-counter or prescribed artificial tear solutions. However, some people may have persistent dry eyes that don’t respond to artificial tears alone and these are the extreme cases for which prompt consult to a ophthalmologist is a must. Addition of omega-3 fatty acid nutritional supplements, warm compresses, and lid massages are also some preventive measures that work.