The two most commonly experienced eye related problems (not including needing vision correction) are dry eyes and ocular allergies. Although, some of their symptoms are similar, but there are distinct differences between the two conditions. In fact, both conditions can occur simultaneously. Read below to learn more about the two diagnoses, their symptoms, and respective treatment options.
Dry Eye Symptoms
Dry eyes may present themselves differently, depending on the person. Most people frequently experience the following symptoms:
- Stinging or burning eyes
- Stringy mucus in or around the eyes
- Excessive eye irritation from smoke or wind
- Excess tearing
- Discomfort when wearing contact lenses
An ocular allergy is caused when your body’s immune system becomes sensitized and overreacts to a substance that normally causes no harm to most people. Allergies can cause dryness and redness, but the main symptom is itching. Most of the time, an antihistamine pill or eyedrops can manage the symptoms. If the dryness persists, there may be something else causing dry eyes.
Decreased Tear Production
Tears are not just made of water. They have three layers (oil, water, and mucus) that help to keep your eye moist and lubricated. The mucus layer helps keep the moisture attached to the eye itself, the aqueous layer carries vitamins and minerals to the cornea, and the oily layer prevents too many tears from evaporating. If you are unable to produce enough tears, your eyes may become dry. Some causes of decreased tear production are:
- Certain medical conditions, including diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, scleroderma, Sjogren’s syndrome, thyroid disorders and vitamin A deficiency
- Certain medications, including antihistamines, decongestants, hormone replacement therapy, antidepressants, and drugs for high blood pressure, acne, birth control and Parkinson’s disease
- Laser eye surgery, though symptoms of dry eyes related to this procedure are usually temporary
- Tear gland damage from inflammation or radiation
Increased Tear Evaporation
Sometimes, dry eyes can be caused by environmental factors that increase the rate tears evaporate. Wind, smoke, or dry air can cause rapid tear evaporation. Concentrating on something for a long period of time, such as working on a computer or driving, may cause you to blink less often than normal. If you are not able to replace lost tears quickly enough, this may also cause your eyes to become dry.
Imbalance in Tear Composition
Sometimes, the balance of oil, mucus, and water in tears can be uneven. For example, the oil film produced by small glands on the edge of your eyelids, or meibomian glands, might become clogged. Blocked meibomian glands are more common in people with inflammation along the edge of their eyelids, rosacea, or other skin disorders.
Certain medications, indoor heaters and air conditioners, overexposure to computer or TV screens, or contacts that need to be replaced may cause eyes to become dry. But, there are also biological causes such as aging. Aging is a common cause of dry eyes in older women because of hormone fluctuations, but men can also suffer from age-related dry eyes.
Artificial tears may cause temporary relief, but if the problem persists you should check with your eye doctor. Dry eye treatment includes treating the meibomian glands, the underlying inflammation, and using tear lubricants. For contact lens wearers, your doctor may choose a contact lens with a material that is more resistant to drying out. Run a humidifier in your home to increase the moisture in the air and your eyes. Remove any fans that may be intensifying the dryness while you are asleep.
If you are experiencing persistent dry eye symptoms, schedule an appointment with your eye doctor. They will be able to help you identify the cause and create a treatment plan that will help your eyes stay healthy.