The eyes are some of the body’s most sensitive organs, made up of blood vessels, tissue, and nerves. Tears are what lubricates the eye, and healthy eyes produce enough tears to moisturize our corneas so that we maintain clear vision and to expel foreign substances from the eye, such as dust or eyelashes. Dry eye is a condition that occurs when you don’t have enough tears to lubricate and nourish the eye. Keep reading to learn more about the common condition known as dry eye syndrome.
What is Dry Eye Disease?
There are more than three million cases of dry eye in the US alone. Dry eye syndrome (often referred to as dry eye disease) is a common and sometimes chronic problem that happens when you don’t have enough tears to lubricate the eyes. If your tear production or tear drainage is unbalanced, dry eye can occur. Your tears are your body’s natural lubricant and cleanser for the eyes. You need tears to wash the eye’s surface, which helps reduce the risk of eye infection. Tears are comprised of water, oils, healthy mucus and antibodies.
A common and often chronic issue, especially in older adults, dry eye can occur when there is a problem with tear production or the drainage ducts in the inner corners of the eyelids. As we get older, tear production continues to decrease, often as a side effect of various medications or as a result of windy and dry climates, which can expedite the evaporation of tears. Additionally, when the water layer of our oil + water + mucus-made tears is inadequate, dry eye symptoms can develop. 
What Are Some Common Dry Eye Syndrome Symptoms?
Certain situations such as sitting in an airplane or an air-conditioned room, staring at a computer for hours, or riding a bike may provoke dry eye symptoms. If not treated properly, prolonged dry eyes may injure the front surface of the eye and impair vision.
Dry eye will typically affect both eyes. Indications and symptoms may include a combination of the following :
- A stinging, burning or scratchy sensation in your eyes
- Stringy mucus in or around your eyes
- Sudden onset sensitivity to light
- Eye redness
- A sensation of having something in your eyes
- Difficulty wearing contact lenses
- Difficulty with nighttime driving
- A gritty feeling between your eye and eyelid
- Watery eyes, which is the body’s response to the irritation of dry eyes
- Blurred vision or eye fatigue
What Causes Dry Eyes?
As we’ve already mentioned, dry eyes occur when your body’s tear production is disrupted, or your tear film is affected. The tear film is a thin fluid layer that covers the outer surfaces of the eye. A healthy tear film has three layers: oils, aqueous fluid, and mucus. This blend keeps the ocular surface well lubricated and smooth, and it supports clear vision. Difficulties with any of these layers can cause dry eyes.
Dry eyes are caused by a variety of conditions, including the following :
- Age. Our eyes naturally get dryer as we age; most people over the age of 65 experience some dry eye symptoms.
- Medications. A common side effect of antihistamines, decongestants, blood pressure medications, and antidepressants is decreased tear production.
- Hormonal changes. Women who experience hormonal changes due to oral contraceptives, pregnancy, and/or menopause are more likely to develop dry eye than men.
- Various medical conditions. Those suffering from allergic eye disease, collagen vascular diseases, rheumatoid arthritis, autoimmune disease, diabetes, blepharitis (eyelid inflammation), and thyroid issues are more likely to experience dry eyes.
- Dry, windy climates and screen time. Dryer climates can intensify tear evaporation, as can staring at a computer screen or being exposed to a blowing air conditioner for long periods of time.
- Eye devices and procedures. Long-term use of contact lenses or eye surgeries such as LASIK can also affect tear production and produce symptoms of dry eyes.
If you have persistent symptoms of dry eye, you should see your eye doctor or an eye care specialist for an examination of your dry eyes, symptoms, and treatment options to help prevent further vision issues. Knowing what’s causing your dry eye will be the key to finding the best way to treat your symptoms. Your doctor may perform a comprehensive eye exam, a Schirmer test to measure the volume and tear production, or a tear osmolarity test, which measures particles and water composition in your tears. After these clinical evaluations, your doctor may recommend a prescription or dry eye home treatments to help with the management of your symptoms.
Who Is Most at Risk for Chronic Dry Eye Disease?
Anyone can experience dry eye, but some people are more likely to suffer from it. Higher risk groups for chronic dry eye disease include the following:
- Individuals aged 50 and older. Tear production wanes as you age, which is why dry eyes are more common in people over 50 and especially in those over the age of 65.
- Women. Hormonal changes due to pregnancy, birth control pills, or menopause make women more at risk of suffering from dry eyes.
- People with diets low in vitamin A, C, and E, or omega-3 fatty acids. Vitamin A and omega-3 oils have a direct link to eye health.
- People with autoimmune conditions. If you are suffering from certain autoimmune diseases, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, you may be more at risk for dry eye.
- Contact lens wearers. Wearing contact lenses for extended periods of time can result in dry eye symptoms.
It’s important to always see a doctor to have the proper tests and procedures administered to diagnose the cause of your dry eye symptoms.
What Are Some At-Home Dry Eye Remedies?
If your dry eyes are mild or temporary, you can typically reduce your discomfort with a few lifestyle changes . The following dry eye treatments can make you more comfortable by relieving some of the more severe dry eye symptoms. Home treatments include lifestyle changes, good eye hygiene, and over-the-counter eye drops. You’ll want to incorporate these remedies into your daily lifestyle to help manage the symptoms of dry eye. While there’s presently no cure for dry eye, there are various options to alleviate and manage symptoms:
- Take frequent breaks from staring at your computer screen or paperwork.
- Position your computer screen properly. It should be below eye level so you won’t need to open your eyes as wide.
- Wear sunglasses, specifically wraparounds, to reduce exposure to wind and sun.
- Use a humidifier at home or in your office to increase moisture in the air.
- Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.
- Avoid directing heat or air at your eyes. Never aim air dryers, car heaters, air conditioners, or fans toward your eyes.
- Incorporate supplements for eye health into your diet. By adding eye vitamins into your daily vitamin regimen, you can improve your eyes’ health. Consuming vitamins for dry eyes with omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins A, C, or E may stimulate tear production and produce better-quality tears.
- Use artificial tears. Over-the-counter eye drops are a common remedy for mild dry eye. You can also use over-the-counter, moisturizing hypochlorous acid gel and ointments you can purchase without a prescription to help your eyes feel better.
- Change your diet. Make sure you are drinking plenty of water (8 to 10 eight-ounce glasses) each day. Following a healthy diet is key not only to eye health, but for overall wellness in general. Your diet should include avoiding fast food and overly processed food, sugar, and foods high in fat and/or cholesterol.
- Use special contact lenses. You should inquire with your doctor about customized contact lenses designed for people with dry eyes. These special contact lenses better protect the ocular surface and contain more moisture than typical lenses.
- Keep your eyelids and eyelashes clean. While everyone knows how important it is to wash one’s face regularly, many don’t recognize that taking care of one’s eyes should also be part of a daily routine. Use eyelid wipes and/or a natural hypochlorous acid spray as part of your daily eyelid hygiene. Gently cleansing your eyelids daily helps to remove debris that may cause blockage of the glands. If you wear eye makeup, you should remove your eye makeup after each wear.
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