The tears are made up of three key components. The outermost layer of oil is secreted by tiny glands along the edge of your eyelids. The middle layer is mainly water mixed with numerous enzymes and other protective molecules like antibodies that help to protect against infection. The innermost layer is mucus, which helps the tears to stick in a smooth layer on the cornea (see video at upper left). If any one of these layers is absent or out of balance, the tear film will not adequately lubricate or moisturize the eye and dry eye can result.
Can Dry Eye Be Treated?
There are many things you can do for dry eye. The first line therapy is to replace missing tears with artificial tears. These need to be given often as tears are constantly evaporating or draining away. Avoiding situations that cause more rapid evaporation will also help, like not sleeping under a ceiling fan, or letting the air conditioner blow in your face while driving. If the oil layer is the problem, you can encourage oil release from the glands by using hot compresses on the eyelids once or twice daily along with lids scrubs (wash along the eyelashes with baby shampoo mixed with warm water). Additionally, taking omega-3 (fish oil) tablets has been shown to improve tear oils. When these treatments aren’t enough, we next turn to stopping drainage of the tears with tiny silicone plugs (see video at lower left). These are either temporary or semi-permanent and will keep your natural tears in place longer. When dry eye is severe, we can permanently block the tear drains by cauterizing them. Other treatments include wearing moisture retaining glasses or goggles an using tear ointments. If the problem is due to an eyelid abnormality, surgery is often required to reposition the eyelids against the eye.
Where Can I Get More Information?
You can call our office at (801)264-4420 and schedule an appointment for a consultation. We will examine your eyes, tear film and eyelids and help you find a solution for your dry eye problem. You can also find more intormation on the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s Get Eye Smart website.