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What Causes Dry Eye?

By: Heather Marshall - Updated: 26 Aug 2012 | comments*Discuss
Eye Drops tears fluid  tear Ducts

Dry eye occurs when there is not enough fluid in the eye and the eye becomes irritated. The term dry eye can apply to a number of conditions where there is a lack of fluid in the eye.

The eye continually produces tears to keep it lubricated but when the eye stops producing tears it causes a stinging or burning sensation and it can feel as if there is a foreign object in the eye. Blinking can be painful in severe cases.

It is important to have sufficient and good quality tears in the eye as they contain antibiotics which are necessary to fight any infection in the eye. Blinking spreads the fluid over the eyes and it then drains away through tear ducts. When the tear glands do not produce enough fluid or the fluid is not of good quality, dry eye occurs. Tears need to be of a good quality to prevent them evaporating too quickly. Dry eye can also develop when the tears drain away too quickly.

The condition is more common amongst women but it can happen to anyone and is more likely to occur in older people. It often goes unnoticed as many people think it is just part of the ageing process. It is not usually picked up until another condition such as poor tear drainage develops that it is diagnosed.

The medical term for the condition is Keratisis but it can also be referred to as Sicca Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca (KCS) or Xerophthalmia depending on the type of dry eye.

Causes of Dry Eye

Dry eye can be made worse by a number of factors. These can include central heating, air conditioning and using computers for a long period of time. Using a humidifier can help to reduce the affects of central heating and not sitting too close to direct heat such as gas or electric fires will also help. Hormonal changes in women as a result of pregnancy, lactation, oral contraceptives, menstruation, and post-menopause can cause dry eye conditions. Conditions such as arthritis, asthma, thyroid abnormalities can also lead to dry eye.

Treatments for Dry Eye

There are several treatments which can relieve the symptoms and reduce any discomfort. Initially just blinking consciously a lot when you are doing close up work will help the problem. Lubricating eye drops will help to soothe the irritation and provide immediate relief. However some eye drops contain a preservative which some people may be allergic to. If they do cause an irritation then you can get a prescription from the hospital pharmacy for a preservative free medication. There are also lubricant ointments available which are particularly helpful at night.

Special plugs can block the tear duct to reduce excessive tear drainage. These collagen plugs work by closing the tear duct allowing more fluid to be retained in the eye. This is a temporary measure as the plugs dissolve in about a week. If symptoms improve with the plugs your eye specialist may advise a longer term solution. Silicone plugs are used for permanent treatment of some dry eye conditions. These can easily be inserted and the procedure is not painful. Although it is a permanent treatment they can be removed if the cause of the dry eye condition improves later in life. In severe cases a surgical procedure can block the tear ducts.

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