Many patients come to our office at Brookside Optometric Group not only because they have blurry vision, but also because their eyes are often irritated, and even red. Sometimes the irritation and redness have been going on for so long that the patients think it is "normal", especially if they wear contact lenses. In actual fact, they may be suffering from dry eyes or Dry Eye Syndrome (DES).
DES is a disease of the tear film covering the surface of the eye. This condition results in ocular discomfort, blurry vison, and tear film instability that can damage the surface of the eye. This then leads to inflammation of the eye, producing red eyes, swelling, and sometimes even watery eyes. Eventually the corneal surface will be damaged, causing further pain, discomfort, and even blurred vision.
It is estimated that 20 million people in the US suffer from some form of DES, including 9 million who have moderate to severe DES. There are many contributing factors to DES, such as environmental, aging, systemic or auto-immune diseases, topical or oral medications, eyelid disease, tear gland dysfunction, prior LASIK surgery, and abnormalities of the outer (epithelial) layer of the cornea. The tear film itself is composed of three distinct, but fragile, layers: the inner mucin (mucous) layer, the middle aqueous (watery) layer, and the outer lipid (oil) layer. It is easy to see that any imbalance or disruption of one or more of these layers can cause DES. Treatment is designed to restore those layers.
If you find yourself having to use over-the-counter artificial tears a lot because of grittiness, stinging or burning, if your eyes seem constantly red, if your contacts are not as comfortable as they used to be, or if your eyelids seem swollen, crusty or tender, you may have Dry Eye Syndrome. The Doctors of Optometry at Brookside Optometric Group can properly diagnose your condition and guide you to the appropriate treatment to best manage your problem. There are many ways to treat dry eyes (just look at the confusing array of eyedrops at the drugstore) depending on the type of dry eye you may have. When you come in to see your optometrist, be sure to report any symptoms you might have, so he or she can correctly diagnose and treat your condition.
If you have any questions, please let me know. In Part Two, I will talk about different treatments for DES.