Dry Eye Disease: Causes, Symptoms, and Prevention


Posted On June 17, 2021

Dry eye disease can easily be misunderstood. Did you know that if you always have excessive tears in your eyes, it could be a symptom of dry eye disease? Dry eyes can lead to severe changes to the structures of your eyes! Its damage to your eyes is chronic, progressive, and irreversible. At an advanced stage, dry eye disease is usually very difficult to treat.

Dry eye disease presents a lot of risks. This article is just an introduction to help you understand the need to get regular eye examinations. Prevention, they say, is better than cure. Most importantly, early detection can make it easier to manage. Most optometry eye specialists will screen for dry eye during a comprehensive eye exam. All the same, you should visit your optometrist or a dry eye specialist if your eyes have been feeling unusually irritated recently.

What is dry eye? 

You have dry eyes when your eyes are unable to produce enough tears to keep wet. It can also happen when your tears are not working correctly. Your eyes may also be prone to bacterial infections, or the surface of your eyes may become inflamed, causing scarring on your cornea, according to Healthline Article.


How does my tear system work?

Your eye’s surface is meant to always be smooth and clear. To maintain this condition, a film of tears will normally spread over the eyes whenever you blink. This helps to maintain good vision.

Your tear film consists of three layers:

  1. An oily layer
  2. A watery layer
  3. A mucus layer

The topmost oily layer of your tear film helps to maintain the smooth surface of the tear. It also keeps the tears from easily drying up. The middle watery layer makes up most of what we see as tears. It helps to keep your eyes clean by washing off foreign particles in the eye. 

The innermost mucus layer helps to keep your eyes moist by circulating the watery layer over the eye’s surface. With all the tear film layers working well together, your eyes will remain moist. An increase in tears will result when your eyes are irritated or when you cry. At other times, your eyes would fail to produce enough tears if something affects any of the tear film layers. This is when dry eyes occur.

What causes dry eyes?

According to Mayo Clinics, the two main causes of dry eye are:

Decreased tear production

Dry eyes can happen when your eyes can’t produce enough fluid to lubricate the eyes. This liquid is called aqueous fluid and the condition is called keratoconjunctivitis. Decreased tear production can be caused by:

  • Aging
  • Certain medical conditions 
  • Certain medications

Increased tear evaporation

The oil film produced by small glands on the edge of your eyelids (meibomian glands) might become clogged. Blocked meibomian glands are more common in people with rosacea or other skin disorders. Increased tear evaporation can be caused by:

  • Certain eye conditions
  • Reduced blinking 
  • Certain topical eye drops
  • Wind, smoke, or dry air
  • Vitamin A deficiency

What are the symptoms of dry eye?

Dry eye can cause: 

  • A scratchy feeling, like there’s something in your eye 
  • Stinging or burning feelings in your eye 
  • Red eyes 
  • Sensitivity to light 
  • Blurry vision

Are my at risk of dry eye?

Anyone can get dry eye, but you might be more likely to have dry eye if you: 

  • Have a lot of screen-time 
  • Are female 
  • Wear contact lenses 
  • Have had refractive surgery.
  • Don’t get enough vitamin A (found in foods like carrots, broccoli, and liver) or omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish, walnuts, and vegetable oils) 
  • Have certain autoimmune conditions, like lupus or Sjogren’s syndrome
  • Are above 50 years. As you get older, tear production starts to decrease

How will my Optometrist diagnose dry eyes?

Dry eyes can be diagnosed by your optometrist during a comprehensive eye examination. He or she will usually evaluate your tear production quality and quantity. Some of the procedures could include:

  • Taking your eye health history. Your optometrist through this step will determine your symptoms and to note any general health problems, medications or environmental factors that may be contributing to the dry eye problem.
  • External examination of your eyes especially the structure of your lids and the state of your blinking
  • Evaluating your eyelids and cornea utilizing bright light and magnification.
  • Measuring your tear quantity and quality to see if any anomalies. Special dyes could be out in your eyes for a good tear flow observation etc.

From your health history, examinations and evaluations, your optometry eye doctor will now be able to determine if you a dry eye disease and suggest appropriate treatment options.

How can I prevent dry eyes?

Dry eyes can be very uncomfortable. Beyond that, It can seriously harm your vision. Getting some treatments and taking some simple efforts can help you get some needed relief. Please, note that most of these tips are better recommended or guided by your optometrist after a careful eye examination. Some dry eye relief tips, according to WebMd include:

  • Plug Your Tear Ducts
  • Change Your Diet
  • Warm compress
  • Eye Massage
  • Clean Your Lids
  • Add Moisture
  • Lessen Your Screen Time
  • Change Your Contacts
  • Use artificial tears 
  • Shade Your Eyes
  • Wear Wraparound Sunglasses
  • Use a Humidifier and a Filter
  • Blink more
  • Stay hydrated
  • Eat oily fish

A visit to your optometrist will help you understand more about these dry eye relief tips.

Should I be concerned about my eyes?

If you do not have any of the symptoms above, then no need to be bothered. All the same, if you have not had any comprehensive eye examination in the last one year, it’s highly advisable to visit your optometrist. This is because most other eye problems can present without symptoms. Some like glaucoma may not be noticed until some vision is lost. Unfortunately, lost vision cannot be retrieved again. Another reason to visit your optometrist, is because some systemic health conditions like diabetes can be diagnosed during some routine eye exams. They can present with some ocular symptoms which your optometrist will see during eye examination.


Useful References You Can Read To Learn More

Written by Dr. Okwukwe Davis

Okwukwe Davis is a Nigerian Optometrist with a flair for web design aligned with brand strategy. He loves to help Optometrists and Rising Professionals discover growth through his design & strategy studio - StarRose. In his spare time, he writes engaging content to help online platforms build meaningful relationships.

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