Dry Eye Syndrome is one of the most frequent reasons people seek eye care. Dry eyes can have a significant impact on our daily activities including reading, driving, working and watching television. 20 to 30 million people in the U.S. have mild symptoms of dry eye syndrome. Further, another six million women and three million men have moderate to severe dry eyes symptoms.
Understanding Tears and the Tear Film
Dry Eye Syndrome occurs when there is a deficiency of the tear film. This deficiency can result in either an inadequate production of one’s own natural tears, or an excessive evaporation of tears. No matter the reason for your dry eyes, you may experience a decrease in the quantity, as well as quality, of your tear film.
A normal tear film is made up of three distinct layers. The innermost layer, the Mucous Layer, directly coats the eye and helps the tear film “stick” to the eye. The middle layer, called the Aqueous Layer, is composed primarily of saline and electrolytes. It brings moisture and oxygen to the cornea. The outermost layer of the tear film is called the Lipid Layer, and is responsible for preventing the tear film from evaporating. All three layers are critical in maintaining a normal tear film. If any of the three layers of the tear film are deficient, you may suffer the symptoms of dry eyes.
Inadequate Tear Production
There are many reasons that you may not produce an adequate quantity of tears. If you have Sjorgren’s Syndrome, or diseases such as Rheumatoid Arthritis or Lupus Erythematosis, this may decrease the quantity of tears that you produce. Patients with Sjorgren’s Syndrome may experience dry eyes as well as a dry mouth and arthritis.
Inflammation of the Lacrimal Gland will also cause patients to produce too few tears to maintain tear film. The Lacrimal Gland is responsible for producing the middle layer, or Aqueous Layer, of the tear film. Other factors causing the Lacrimal Gland to produce an inadequate amount of natural tears include long term contact lens wear, past eye infections, certain allergies, and vitamin deficiencies.
Excessive Evaporation of Tears
There are a number of factors that can cause excessive evaporation of your tears. Being exposed to forced hot air heat, dry climates, or air travel can all result in tear evaporation. It can also result from contact lens wear, looking at a computer screen or reading for long periods of time, air pollution, or even using your blow dryer.
Your tears may evaporate too quickly if you suffer from low-grade eyelid inflammation. Any inflammation of the eyelids can cause the tiny tubular glands, the Meibomian Glands, to stop secreting their oily film. Without the oily layer being present, it is very likely that you will experience a rapid evaporation of tears and symptoms of Dry Eyes. (http://www.emedicine.com/OPH/topic115.htm)
This is an especially common problem for perimenopausal women. 75% of women in this age group have some presence of facial rosacea. This, along with the general hormonal changes occurring during this time, make perimenopausal women particularly susceptible to dry eyes. (http://www.agingeye.net/dryeyes/dryeyesinformation.php).
Lastly, your tear film may evaporate too quickly if the tears are not properly replenished over the surface of your eye. This may be due to a number of factors including improper closure of your eyes during sleep, eye “bulging” conditions that may be related to thyroid problem, or loss of tone or shape of the eyelids.
If you, a family member or friend, would like to schedule a dry eye syndrome consultation, please call The Eye Center in Denver, Colorado at 303-777-5455.