Do you remember the last time that you had a really good cry? Did you watch a sad movie? Were you mourning the loss of someone very close to you? Did your favorite sports team lose a championship game? No matter the situation, you probably shed more than a few tears. Many of us don’t really think about shedding tears unless we’re experiencing either sadness or special joy. Yet, some people actually have a problem in producing their own tears. But, this inability doesn’t come from a lack of empathy or emotion. Rather, it stems from a medical condition known as dry eye.
What Is It?
As the name suggests, this condition occurs when the eye is unable to make enough tears or the right quality of tears to keep the eye moist. Our eyes have actual tear films which are responsible for creating tears. Each film has three different layers: oil, water, and mucus. The oil layer (the outermost layer) is responsible for keeping our tear film surface smooth and to prevent tear evaporation. The water layer (the middle layer) is the main driver of tear production. The mucus layer (the innermost layer) is responsible for keeping the eye moist by allowing the water layer to uniformly stick to the eye’s surface.
In a healthy eye, tear production happens constantly at a smooth, steady rate. Dry eye represents a deviation from this normal rate.
The following is a list of symptoms for this condition:
- Stinging or burning eyes
- Stringy looking mucus inside or around the eyes
- Eye irritation
- Discomfort when wearing contact lenses
- Excessive tearing (Although it sounds paradoxical, some people can actually make too many tears. It makes sense if you think of the tears as a bodily response to excessive irritation).
Some of the major causes for this condition are as follows:
- Autoimmune diseases including rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and Sjogren’s syndrome
- Various medications such as beta blockers, diuretics, antihistamines, and general pain relievers
- Dry and windy environments
In addition, some other groups at higher risk for this condition include:
- postmenopausal women
- long term contact lens wearers
- LASIK customers
- and those who stare for long hours at a computer screen.
There are a variety of ways to treat this condition. Artificial tears represent the most common way. Another way is to find out if something in your environment is a cause and adapt accordingly. Finally, omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to provide significant relief for some people (you find omega-3’s in certain fishes and flax seeds).
We don’t generally think of the tears in our eyes unless we’re overcome with emotion. After all, this normally doesn’t impact our daily lives. Still, for dry eye sufferers, it’s more than about emotions. It’s about dealing with their eye discomfort. Thanks to increasing knowledge about this condition, many long term sufferers can now keep their eyes regularly moist. You can find out what may be causing your condition by getting an eye disease screening from the friendly professionals at Northside Eye Care, and that should help bring a smile to your face – or maybe tears of joy.