Dry eye is a term used to describe a group of conditions that result from inadequate wetting and lubrication of the eye. Blinking is the body's way of spreading moisture over the surface of the eye. The natural tear film refreshes and protects the eye throughout the day. The average person blinks nearly 8,000 times a day, but that number decreases dramatically- by nearly half- during extended periods of time spent on concentrated near work such as reading, watching television or working on the computer. If the tear film deteriorates and the surface of the eye is not constantly refreshed, tiny wounds, or "micro-traumas", will develop on the cornea causing the painful symptoms of dry eye.
It has been estimated that 10 to 20 percent of the U.S. population suffers from dry eye. Nearly six million women and three million men in the U.S. have moderate or severe symptoms of the condition. Scientists estimate that an additional 20 to 30 million people in the country have mild cases of dry eye.
It is estimated that the rate of diagnosis of dry eye is low- at approximately five percent. Dry eye can be difficult to diagnose because there are so many possible causes and contributors. Also, not everyone experiences or describes symptoms in the same way.
Anyone can experience dry eye, but the condition is more in females than in males. According to a study by scientists from Schepens Eye Research Institute (SERI) and Brigham and Women's Hospital, nearly 3.2 million American women age 50 and older suffer from dry eye.
The occurrence of dry eye increases with age. SERI reports that nearly 75 percent of people over age 65 will experience dry eye syndrome, and the condition occurs most often in old women after menopause.
Symptoms of dry eye include, dryness, scratchiness, burning or stinging, Foreign Body Sensation (FBS), grittiness, fluctuating blurring of vision, tired eyes, general discomfort, sensitivity to light, contact lens intolerance and tear debris.
Clinical signs of dry eye include fast tear film break-up time, corneal surface damage, corneal and conjunctival staining, low tear meniscus, tear debris, hyperemia, increased cytokines and abnormal tear osmolarity.
Dry eye is a multifactorial disease of the tears and ocular surface that results in symptoms of discomfort, visual disturbance and tear film instability with potential damage to the ocular surface. It is accompanied by increased osmolarity of the tear film and inflammation of the ocular surface.
Factors that can contribute to dry eye include smoke, pollution, extreme heat or cold, windy environments, concentrated near work such as reading or staring at a computer screen, hormonal changes, autoimmune diseases such as Sjogren's Syndrome, Lupus or Rheumatoid Arthritis, and certain types of medications including antihistamines, anti-depressants and hormone replacement.
Other factors such as aging, certain types of medications, including antihistamines and antidepressants and environments with low humidity such as offices and airplanes also can damage the tear film and exacerbate symptoms of the condition.
Some things that may need to be evaluated by your doctors
Treatment of this condition may include artificial tears, gels and/or lubricating ointments at bedtime, daily eyelid hygiene scrub procedures, a prescribed medication regimen, omega-3 essential fatty acid nutritional supplements (fish and flaxseed oil), and punctual (tear drainage) occlusion of the eyelid to retain moisture.
As you can see the causes and possible treatments are complex. An individual treatment plan will be formulated for you based on the severity and known causes. Please follow my recommendations and outlined treatment plan carefully.
If you have dry eye symptoms, please call our office at 203-791-2020 and make an appointment with a dry eye specialist.
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