What Causes My Dry Eyes?
There are numerous causes and risk factors that contribute to the development of dry eye syndrome.
Dry eye syndrome is a chronic eye condition that is characterized by dry eyes and other symptoms including:
- Itchy eyes
- A gritty sensation
- The sensation of a foreign body in the eye
- Crusty eyelids
- Blurred vision
Your tears comfort your eyes in many ways. Water moisturizes, an outer layer of oils lubricates and prevents evaporation, and proteins help protect against infection. Dry eye strikes when your eyes can’t produce enough tears for lubrication or the moisture in your tears evaporates too quickly.
What is Meibomian Gland Disorder?
In 80% of cases, Dry Eye Syndrome is caused by some problem with the meibomian glands, which produce the lipids (oils) essential for proper eye lubrication and for maintaining the appropriate breakup time (evaporation rate) of tears. The glands can get blocked or even atrophy by infection, environmental factors, and lifestyle.
Dry Eye is a very common condition which we treat in our practice. Some recent research by Harris Interactive indicates that about 70% of people with dry eye don’t ever see an eye care professional, despite the fact that nearly half of all Americans suffer from dry eye symptoms to some extent on a regular basis. This is unfortunate as most patients stand to benefit immensely from appropriate treatment for dry eyes. At our Fort Worth eye clinic, we develop a custom treatment plan for you, tailored to treat the specific causes of your dry eyes.
Dry Eye Syndrome has probably always existed, especially in the presence of environmental factors such as dust, cold, dryness, and, pollution. However, it seems to been getting more common and more severe, particularly over the last decade.
One likely reason is the explosion in the use of digital devices. More and more, we spend many hours of the day continually looking at computers, smartphones, and digital televisions. This makes us stare for long periods of time while blinking much less than normal. Infrequent blinking, in turn, causes our meibomian glands to be blocked and even atrophy, resulting in serious and chronic dry eye syndrome.
The widespread use of contact lenses is likely also a contributing factor. Long days of use, combined with improper care and cleaning irritates the eyes and contributes to dryness and discomfort.
Various medications, becoming more widespread, also have side effects including dry eyes. Lastly, age is the most common contributor to developing dry eyes. As we live longer and longer, the rates of dry eyes are bound to increase.
At Eagle Mountain Family Eye Care, we use the latest technology to test the makeup of your tears. This includes:
- how quickly tears break down and evaporate
- The chemical and pH balance of tears
- the lipid (oil) to water ratio
- and more.
The technology we employ at our Fort Worth Dry Eye Clinic includes:
- Visual examinations
- Fluorescein dye
Proper eye lubrication and comfort requires tears that have the right balance between water, salts, and lipids―the oils produced by your meibomian glands. TearLab is a special device used to test that balance. In most cases, Meibomian Gland Disorder is the chief culprit for dry eyes. This occurs when there is some kind of blockage, infection, or atrophying of the glands which disrupt the ability of those lipids to be present. A lack of these lipids causes your tears to evaporate faster than they should. The TearLab tests the osmolarity of your tears.
A strong imbalance between the osmolarity of one eye vs. the other is a strong indication that someone has dry eye disease.
Another tool used by our Lake Worth dry eyes experts is InflammaDry, which tests the level of inflammation in your eyes. This dry eyes diagnostic tool tests whether or not a patient has elevated levels of something called MMP-9 in their tears from the inner lining of the lower eyelid. MMP-9 is a protein which indicates inflammation, which is fairly common for anyone suffering from dry eyes.
Our Lake Worth eye doctors will typically prescribe steroids in order to get the eye inflammation under control.
Fluorescein Dye Test
Dr. Miller, or another of our Lake Worth dry eye doctors, will also test your tear-breakup time. Essentially, if the makeup of your tears is off, they will sometimes simply evaporate before they can work effectively. Our eye doctors test your tear breakup time, using a fluorescein orange dye ― which is also useful in spotting other corneal diseases, conditions, or foreign bodies. Our optometrist will gently touch your eye with a tiny amount of special blotting paper. As you blink, the dye will spread and painlessly coat the tear film which covers the cornea. Using a blue light to contrast with the orange dye, the eye doctor is able to see problems revealed in green.
Does Staring at a Screen Cause Dry Eye?
Continuous staring at a fixed object, such as a phone or computer screen, usually results in a decreased blink rate. The lack of blinking actually causes the eyes not to replenish the tears often enough. The meibomian glands, therefore, can become blocked or even atrophy and die.
Does Drinking More Water Help with Dry Eye?
The main component of tears is water. Most of us don’t drink enough water. If you are dehydrated or not drinking enough, then you may not produce enough tears to keep your eyes moist. Snapple, Coke and other caffeinated drinks like coffee and tea may feel like they quench your thirst, but they actually dehydrate the body. Your body needs water to prevent dry eyes symptoms.
Antihistamines and Dry Eyes
Certain medications are known to contribute to dry eyes. In particular, anti-histamines (allergy) medication. Prolonged use of antihistamines will often lead to dry eye symptoms developing.
Beta-Blockers and Dry Eyes
Typically prescribed for controlling blood pressure, beta-blockers are proven to cause or exacerbate existing dry eye symptoms. If you are taking beta-blockers and experiencing symptoms, let us know! Your Lake Worth dry eye doctors can help.
A recent study about the correlation between migraines and dry eyes has interesting results. Comparing migraine sufferers to people without headaches. The results showed a much greater prevalence of dry eye in the migraine group than in those without headaches. So, researchers are speculating that some migraines may worsen when dry eye symptoms are present. It has been recently hypothesized that when people report on headaches these could actually be caused by dry eyes, amongst other factors. However, it is unclear whether one causes the other, or whether computer use is a contributing cause of both headaches and dry eyes.
As we age, we experience hormonal changes. These changes are known to cause or contribute to dry eyes. While this is true of both men and women, it seems that women over 50 are particularly more prone to developing dry eye symptoms.
The following environmental factors are known to play a huge role in causing or contributing to dry eyes:
- Cold-climate and central heating
- Dry climate
- Sandy or dusty conditions
Various diseases contribute to dry eyes. Autoimmune diseases are a known factor. Rheumatoid arthritis, and Sjogren’s syndrome – a common symptom that rheumatologists treat can also contribute to dry eyes. Diabetics or those with Glaucoma that requires medication are more likely to have dry eye syndrome.
One of the main reasons people discontinue contact lens usage is due to dry eyes. The good news is there have been major improvements across all the brands with special contacts that are aimed at preventing dry eye symptoms.
Do You Live in Fort Worth, Lake Worth, Weatherford, or Dallas and suffer From Dry Eyes?
Dr. Matt Miller is the owner of Eagle Mountain Family Eye Care in Fort Worth, TX
Dr. Matt Miller began practicing in 2005 at Eagle Mountain Family Eye Care in Lake Worth, TX. He received his Bachelor of Business Administration degree from Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas, and his Doctor of Optometry Degree from the University Of Houston College Of Optometry, graduating with Magna cum Laude honors. Dr. Miller served as intern at the University of Houston with disciplines in Primary Eye Care, Medical Eye Services, Glaucoma Services and Cornea/Contact lens Services where he received clinical letters of excellence in all rotations. He continued his education with Cornea Associates of Texas as an intern in 2004 before beginning private practice in 2005. Dr. Miller specializes in treating the symptoms and causes of Dry Eye Syndrome, Blepharitis, and Meibomian Gland Disorder.