Despite the name, dry eye can make a person’s eyes extra watery due to the human body’s natural defence mechanism and it usually affects both eyes – not just one. In some cases, dry eye can be more prevalent in one eye than the other.
Dry eye is usually a chronic condition, affecting up to 50 perfect of the world population. But why is this figure so high, that can’t be right surely? Well, because the quality of tear film can decrease with age and leads to less effective blinks. However, that does not mean young people are incapable of getting dry eye. Not only is dry eye common, it is also manageable if treated correctly – so there is nothing to worry about, unless attempting to pronounce the medical name for dry eye; keratoconjunctivitis sicca.
Still not sure what dry eye is? When a person blinks, they should produce a healthy and even tear layer, known as ‘tear film’, over the front of the eye. These tears keep the eye healthy and functional throughout the day. It also helps the eye to focus, which allows a person to have a clear view of vision. Just like a piece of your grandma’s cake, the tear film is made up of more than one layer. The closest to the surface is the oily ‘lipid’ layer, in the middle is the well known watery ‘aqueous’ layer and beneath it all is the mucous ‘mucin’ layer. The lipid layer seals the moisture from the aqueous layer, which protects the foundation of the tear film which is the mucin layer.
Having dry eye means a person is unable to produce enough healthy tears to lubricate and nourish the eye effectively, subsequently causing discomfort such as sensitivity to light, red and itchy eyes, a gritty sensation in the eyes, overly watery eyes (human body’s natural response to dry eye), eye strain/fatigue, stringy mucus in and around the eyes and blurred vision. Many people report having a stinging, burning or scratchy sensation in the eyes and even inability to produce tears when crying!
Minor symptoms can still negatively impact a person’s quality of life, making it difficult to perform daily tasks. This can impact a person’s effectiveness at work/school, such as reading an important e-mail or ability to meet deadlines. It can also impact a person’s driving ability. If left untreated, dry eye can become severe and lead to eye inflammation, further vision problems, corneal ulcers and even an abrasion of the corneal surface. The good news is, dry eye is very unlikely to cause permanent eye damage. However, in severe cases, it has been known to cause permanent damage to a person’s eyes.
Dry eye can be developed when a person does not produce enough tears, quality of tears is not what it should be or tears are not spreading evenly across the eye.
Anyone experiencing dry eye and is unable to manage it with the use of eye drops/gels, we strongly advise to see a GP (with knowledge of eye conditions like dry eye), an optometrist (optician) or an ophthalmologist (eye doctor).
Still unsure what dry eye is? Read our other blog posts to develop a further understanding of dry eye and its symptoms.