What Is Dry Eye?
Dry eye syndrome is a common condition in which the eyes produce an abnormally low volume of tears. Tears perform an important function for the eye, keeping it clean and lubricated, providing nutrition, and establishing a smooth surface through which the eye refracts light.
What are the Symptoms of Dry Eye?
Typical symptoms of dry eye include a dry or gritty sensation, scratchiness, itching, burning, pain, eyelid heaviness, intermittent blurred vision and intermittent tearing. Symptoms are usually worse later in the day after prolonged use of the eyes, and in conditions of heat, wind and low humidity.
Many patients with dry eye syndrome complain of intermittent tearing. Normally, the lids produce a small amount of tears to keep the eyes lubricated and healthy. If this tearing is of poor quality or of insufficient quantity to keep the eyes healthy, a message will be sent to the brain to cause a reflex flow of tears from the main tear gland. This is usually a large volume of watery tears that may not provide adequate lubrication. In other cases, the eyes may attempt to make up for poor quality tears with an increased quantity of tears. In either case, artificial lubricants can help decrease the tearing.
How Does NSES Treat Dry Eye?
Dry eye syndrome is rarely a serious problem, but it is almost always a nuisance. Treatment initially begins with artificial lubricants, usually drops given 3 to 6 times a day. Warm, wet soaks with a clean washcloth can also be used when the eyes are especially irritated. Artificial tears work best when given on a scheduled basis rather than in response to symptoms. After beginning therapy with artificial tears, it may take several weeks of continuous use before long lasting improvement in symptoms is achieved.
More severe cases of dry eye may require the use of an ointment or gel at bedtime, and/or the use of preservative-free artificial tears every hour or two during the day. Patients with severe symptoms may also consider closure of the tear drainage system (punctual occlusion), which allows the patient’s own tears to remain on the eye longer.
All artificial tears are not created equal. Many have preservatives that can cause further irritation, especially if used frequently. Gently preserved artificial tears may be used up to 4-6 times a day. If more frequent use is required or for especially sensitive eyes, non-preserved tears should be used.