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Eye Health Library / Eye Exam & Diagnoses
The tears your eyes normally produce are necessary for overall eye health and clear vision. Dry eye occurs when your eyes do not produce enough tears or produce tears that do not have the proper chemical composition. Dry eye may also be due to excess tear evaporation.
Dry eye symptoms can result from the normal aging process, hormonal changes, exposure to certain environmental conditions, decreased blinking when concentrating or using a computer, problems with normal blinking or from medications such as antihistamines, oral contraceptives or antidepressants. Dry eye can also be symptomatic of general health problems, such as arthritis, or can result from UV exposure and environmental irritants.
The common signs and symptoms of dry eye include stinging, gritty, scratchy and uncomfortable eyes, fluctuating vision, and sometimes having a burning feeling or a feeling of something foreign within the eye. Some people experience tearing as a result of dry eye. This is a natural reflex of the eyes to create more tears to comfort the eye in response to dryness, but these excess tears do not have the correct composition.
During the examination, your doctor of optometry will ask you questions about your general health, your use of medications and your home and work environments to determine any factors which may be causing dry eye symptoms. This information will help your doctor of optometry decide whether to perform additional dry eye testing. The use of a high-powered microscope known as a slit lamp, in conjunction with special dyes, will allow your doctor of optometry to evaluate the quality, the amount and the distribution of tears to detect signs of dry eyes.
Dry eye is usually chronic and cannot be cured, but your comfort can be improved and eye health maintained through use of artificial tears. For more severe dry eye, gels and ointments can be used, especially at bedtime. Your doctor of optometry is the best source to advise the best drops for you. In some cases, small plugs may be inserted in the corner of the eyelids to slow drainage and loss of tears. Treating any underlying systemic disease, or a change of diet to include items such as fish or flax seed oil can also be helpful at times. New prescription medications are now available to help your body produce more of its own tears. A therapy involving heat and pressure is available to clear any poorly functioning oil glands and allows the body to return to the natural production of oils required for proper tear composition. Your doctor of optometry can assess your tear film and its deficiencies and recommend the best treatment options for you.
If dry eye is left untreated, it can be harmful. Excessive dry eye can damage tissue and possibly scar the sensitive corneal tissues of your eye, impairing vision. Dry eye can make contact lens wear more difficult due to increased irritation and greater chance of eye infection. To keep dry eye symptoms in check, you and your doctor of optometry need to work together. Follow your doctor’s instructions carefully. If you have increased dryness or redness that is not relieved by the prescribed treatment, let your doctor of optometry know as soon as possible.