For residents of southern California, feeling a little dry is nothing new, but when it comes to symptoms of dry eye disease, you might be surprised to know that tearing is actually a symptom. But wait, if your eyes are tearing, how can they possibly be dry? We are here to answer that and many more dry-eye questions.
Understanding Your Tears
Your tears are much more complex than you might give them credit for. For starters, your tear film is made of three layers: oil, water, and mucous, which are all produced by their respective glands. Your tears also contain oxygen, antibodies, and nutrients to nourish the front of your eye. If one of the three tear film layers is missing or inadequate, the surface of your eye can be compromised.
But, What About the Tearing?
When one of the tear layers is compromised, your body will try to make up for it by producing more tears to try and compensate. This is known as reflex tearing and is the reason that your eyes might be tearing despite you having dry eyes. This often happens when the glands in your eyelids (the meibomian glands) that are responsible for producing the oily component of tears are inflamed. The meibomian glands can be inflamed for several reasons including hormonal changes or a less-than-normal blink rate.
My Eyes Don’t Tear, Are There Other Symptoms?
Yup. Your eyes may feel watery, or dry, depending on which tear layer is affected and how the eye is able to compensate. Other symptoms of dry eye can include:
- Itchy eyes
- Feeling like there is something in your eye
- Eyes that feel tired
- Eyes that actually feel dry
- Needing to take frequent breaks during activities
- Sensitivity to light
- Waking up with crusty eyes
- Gritty or burning sensation
Wouldn’t I Know if I Have a Problem?
Not necessarily. Sometimes, the early signs of dry eye, like changes in the tear-producing glands, can happen before you notice any symptoms. As with most health-related matters, early diagnosis and treatment leads to better outcomes.
So, How Do I Find Out If I Have Dry Eye?
Your local eye doctor, either an ophthalmologist or optometrist, can examine your tears and your tear-producing glands. If the tear quality seems poor, or if you are reporting symptoms of dry eye, your doctor will do additional tests. It’s important to understand that there are several tests for dry eye and that each test provides important information.
How is Dry Eye Treated?
There are several known treatments for dry eye which include:
- Artificial tears
- Punctal occlusion
- Cyclosporine solutions
- Warm compresses
- Lid hygiene
- Dietary and lifestyle changes
- Meibomian gland in-office treatments such as LipiFlow and IPL
Once an eye doctor has diagnosed dry eye disease, they can then recommend a course of treatment that is right for you.
Do All Eye Doctors Treat Dry Eye Disease?
Not all eye doctors treat dry eye disease. If your eye doctor doesn’t have the necessary experience or technology, they will refer you to a local eye doctor who treats dry eye in their practice.
If you think you have dry eyes, contact your eye doctor to schedule an appointment and get your eyes evaluated.
This article is written in collaboration between Dr. Arthur Benjamin, an ophthalmologist, and Dr. Irina Yakubin, an optometrist who work together to treat dry eye at The Benjamin Eye Institute. We are welcoming new patients into our practice in West Hollywood, CA.