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    Understanding Dry Eye


    The eye has a tear film that coats the outer layer of the eye. This tear film is very important for the lubrication and comfort of the eye as well as for the clarity of vision. As we age, this protective tear film diminishes, and leaves the eye more exposed to the drying effects of the air, wind and dust. In many people the dryness is worse in the afternoon and evening.

    Dry eye is usually not caused by a lack of tear production. In fact, the eye can still make so many tears that many patients complain of wet eyes and tearing with this condition. That's because the dryness causes the eye to produce more tears in an effort to replace the tear film. Dry eye is probably the most common problem seen in the eye doctor's office.


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    Symptoms

    Dry eye symptoms include burning, stinging or a gritty sensation that may come and go depending on many factors. Itching, tearing and light sensitivity may also occur. Occasionally long strings of mucus can be stretched from a dry eye.

    Blinking is very important for the maintenance of the tear film. When performing such activities as reading or working on a computer, we blink less frequently. This aggravates the symptoms of dry eyes. Sometimes environmental factors can also aggravate dry eye symptoms. Dry weather, either in hot or cold temperatures, robs the eye of needed lubricants. Cigarette smoke, fumes, dust and airborne particles are common irritants. In most patients, this condition is not associated with systemic disease.

    Treatment

    Usually artificial tears, available over-the-counter, soothe the eyes and give temporary relief. These artificial tears can work for several hours and usually must be repeated at frequent intervals. Ointments last longer, but they blur vision and are most effective at night.

    Other techniques to treat dry eye include plugs, which block the tear duct. Restasis®, a prescription medication for dry eye, and nutritional supplements, including Omega-3 fatty acids, are other treatment options available.