Tears are an essential part of eye health. Not only do they provide lubrication for your eyes, they’re the natural barrier that protects your eye from injury or disease. Without tears, there is nothing to protect your eye from bacteria, foreign matter or friction abrasions. Dry eye is one of the primary causes of many eye problems, especially age-related issues. Dry eye is much more common in individuals over 65 years of age.
Causes of dry eye. According to the American Optometric Association, “People with dry eyes either do not produce enough tears or have a poor quality of tears.” This leads to tears draining out of the eye too quickly for the newly produced tears to keep up. There are a number of reasons that the body may not produce enough tears, including regular exposure to wind, sun and dry climates. Some types of medication and some medical issues may also cause a deficiency in natural tears. Any swelling near the eyes may also block the tear ducts or alter the shape of the eyelids for improper tear distribution. Eye surgery or consistent use of contact lenses may also cause dry eye. Finally, insufficient blinking, which is common if you watch a lot of TV or spend many hours on the computer a day, may also lead to dry eye.
Symptoms. If you have dry eye, your eyes may feel sore or itchy. Many people report that “too tired” feeling, likened to having sand in your eyes. Your eyes may be red or become bloodshot easily. In more severe cases of dry eye, your vision may become slightly fuzzy or blurry as the cornea (surface of the eye) dries.
Treatments. The most common treatment for dry eyes is an over-the-counter solution that is formulated to simulate natural tears. A few drops of this solution applied directly to your eyes whenever they feel dry will help lower the risk of dry eye-related complications and soothe eye irritation. Removable plugs are also available to prevent tears from draining; another option is surgery, which can permanently limit drainage. Many eye doctors recommend dietary supplements, such as flax seed oil, that help encourage natural tear production.