What Are Dry Eyes?
Dry eyes are a condition where the eyes cannot produce enough tears or the right quality of tears to lubricate and nourish the eyes. Dry eyes can occur at any age, even in people otherwise healthy. Normally, dry eye affects both eyes but sometimes affects one eye more than the other. It is more common in women and with older age when the individual produces fewer tears. The condition is also found to be common in places where malnutrition causes a deficiency in vitamin A.
Dry eye is a problem with tears necessary to maintain eye health and provide clear vision. Tears spread evenly on the front surface of the eye, known as the cornea, with each blink of the eyelids. Tears provide lubrication, decrease the risk of eye infection, wash away foreign particles in the eye, and keep the eye surface smooth and clear.
Symptoms Of Dry Eyes
Dry eyes may cause a range of symptoms that include;
- A stinging or burning sensation in the eyes
- Blurred vision or wavy vision, especially at night
- The feeling of dryness, grittiness (like sand), and soreness in the eyes
- A sensation of having something in the eyes
- Strings of mucus in or around the eyes
- Eye sensitivity to smoke or wind
- Irritation and redness of the eyes
- Difficulty keeping the eyes open
- Eye fatigue after reading, even for a short time
- Sensitivity to light
- Discomfort when wearing contact lenses
- Lots of tearing (eyes make more tears when they are irritated by dry eye)
Causes Of Dry Eyes
Dry eyes may be caused due to decreased tear production, increased tear evaporation, or an imbalance in the components of tears.
1. A Decrease In Tear Production
Dry eyes are caused when adequate tears are not produced. Common causes for decreased tear production include;
- Aging – Dry eyes are a natural part of the aging process. People over the age of 65 usually experience certain dry-eye symptoms.
- Reduced tear production is also linked to several medical conditions like diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, scleroderma, Sjogren’s syndrome, thyroid disorders, and vitamin A deficiency.
- Certain medications are shown to decrease tear production. These include hormone replacement therapy, decongestants, antidepressants, antihistamines, and drugs for acne, high blood pressure, birth control, and Parkinson’s disease.
- Laser eye surgery causes temporary symptoms of dry eyes that are related to the procedure.
- Tear gland damage that results from inflammation or radiation can decrease tear production.
2. Increased Tear Evaporation
Common causes of increased tear evaporation include;
- Wind, smoke, or dry air.
- Failure to blink regularly while reading, driving, or staring at a computer screen for a long time.
- Eyelid problems, such as ectropion where the eyelid is turned outwards away from the eyeball and entropion where the eyelid is rolled inward against the eyeball.
3. Imbalance In The Composition Of Tears
- The tear film consists of three layers – oil, water, and mucus. For clear vision, the tears must have a proper balance of each of these components.
- The topmost smooth oil layer smoothens the tear surface and prevents or slows down the evaporation of the water layer. Faulty levels of oil can cause tears to evaporate too quickly.
- The thick middle water layer comprises water and salt, produced by the lacrimal glands and functions to clean the eyes. Any problems with this layer can cause film instability.
- The innermost mucin layer helps in distributing tears uniformly across the eye surface.
- Problems with any of these layers may cause symptoms of dry eyes.
- Avoid Air Blowing In Your Eyes – Do not direct air into your eyes from hairdryers, air conditioners, car heaters, or fans.
- Add Moisture To The Air – In winter, use a humidifier to add moisture to dry air inside the house, especially your bedroom, and other areas where a lot of time is spent like the workspace.
- Wear Wraparound Sunglasses – Consider wearing wraparound sunglasses or other protective eyewear when you are outdoors. The sides and tops of eyeglasses can be covered by safety shields to protect from all angles to block wind and dry air.
- Take Frequent Eye Breaks During Long Tasks – If you are reading, staring at a computer screen for long periods, or doing another task that requires visual concentration, take periodic eye breaks. Close your eyes for a few minutes or consider looking at an object off in the distance; or blink repeatedly for a couple of seconds to help spread your tears evenly across the surface of your eyes. When you are on the computer, keep your screen lower so when you look at it, you are looking downward.
- Be Cautious Of Your Environment – The air can be dry at high altitudes, in desert areas and airplanes. If you are spending time in such an environment, it can be helpful to close your eyes for a few minutes at a time to minimize the evaporation of your tears.
- Stop Smoking And Avoid The Smoke – Avoid smoke, whether it is from cigarettes or fireplaces.
- Use artificial tears or lubricating eye drops regularly to keep your eyes well-lubricated
- Your eyes feel dry and you suddenly cannot see as clearly as you used to then it is the time to make an appointment with the doctors. You could experience blurred vision or sudden wavy vision.
- You have frequent dry eye symptoms, or if your symptoms worsen.
- If dry eyes last more than a week or two
Can Dry Eyes Cause Blurred Vision?
Yes, blurred vision is a common dry eye symptom. Dry eyes can cause blurred vision for short periods and are more common at night when your visual system is fatigued. The blurriness temporarily decreases by blinking fully and frequently as blinking helps spread the tear film evenly across the cornea.
Why Do Dry Eyes Cause Blurred Vision?
Depending on the cause of dry eyes, it may reduce the tear production, tear film may evaporate easily, or it can become too oily or filled with mucus. Any of these problems with tears will prevent the tears from spreading smoothly and evenly on the cornea and do not remain on the cornea long enough for clear, comfortable, stable vision causing blurred vision.
Tips To Prevent Dry Eyes
Dry eyes can be prevented in several simple ways. These include;
When To See A Doctor
See a doctor if;
Vasavi Attada specializes in creating content for Medical/healthcare domain. She has written articles for Indian Health Organization (IHO), American Diabetes Association, and for magazines such as India Today and Dignity Dialogue.
Vasavi Attada holds a Master’s degree in Microbiology from Bangalore University.