Dry-eye-sufferers either have a poor quality of tears or do not produce enough tears. Tears serve the purpose of lubricating the eyes and washing away particles, making them instrumental to the comfort of one’s eye. Tears consist of three layers (mucus, oil and water), all working in together. The oil keeps the water from evaporating while the mucin layer spreads the tears over the eye evenly. If the tears vanish too quickly or they fail to spread evenly over the cornea, dry eye symptoms will develop. Although dry eye syndrome can happen at a young age, it typically becomes problematic as we age—hormonal changes such as menopause makes your eyes produce fewer tears. Women are likelier than men to develop dry eyes. Chemotherapy for cancer can dry out your eyes and other mucous membranes. Certain environments (dry, windy, smoky) can evaporate tears. Several oral medications ranging from blood pressure medication to antidepressants reduce tear production. Systemic causes of dry eyes include thyroid abnormalities, as well as previous eye surgery, autoimmune disorders such as Sjogren syndrome. Several tests are used to evaluate tear production and health such as the Schirmer’s Test, tear break up times, and biochemical analysis of tears.
Artificial tears help many people fight back against dry eye syndrome. Many brands can be purchased without a prescription, and sometimes a few brands need to be tried out in order to find the best match. Fish oil or flax seed oil a couple times a day may help. Plugs may be inserted in the drains in the eyelids to keep the tears that you do make contact with your eyes longer. In severe cases, cyclosporine eye drops are used to make the tear film better. Lubricating ointments may help as well.