Dry Eye Syndrome
Dry eye, also called dry eye syndrome, is one of the most common ocular conditions today. Dry eye problems arise when a person does not have enough tears, or the correct composition of tears, to properly lubricate the eye. Dry eye affects millions of people and while most suffer from mild symptoms that often disappear after a short time, the condition can lead to permanent vision problems. As a result, severe, long-lasting symptoms should be addressed immediately.
What is Dry Eye Syndrome?
Also known as keratitis sicca, dry eye syndrome is exactly what the name implies; it is characterized by a persistent dry, scratchy feeling in the eyes that usually stems from problems with tear production or drainage. Though usually mild, symptoms can range in severity and lead to a serious decrease in quality of life.
Dry Eye Diagnosis
Dry eye syndrome generally does not require a sophisticated diagnosis. If your eyes feel dry, irritated, or scratchy on a regular basis, you most likely have dry eye problems. Determining the exact causes of your dry eye and the best solution for the condition, however, can be much more complex. During your examination, your doctor may give you the Schirmer tear test to measure both the quantity and quality of your tears. There are several other tests available that use special eye drops to measure the evaporation rate of your tears.
Causes of Dry Eye
There are myriad causes of dry eye syndrome. The most frequent causes of dry eyes are environmental factors such as overly hot or dry air, high altitude, smoking, or being exposed to smoke in the air. Dry eye problems caused by such irritants can usually be resolved by avoiding airborne irritants or by using eye drops to cleanse the eyes. Poor tear quality is another common cause of dry eye. Many of the causes of dry eye tend to produce more pronounced results as people age. As a result, adults over the age of 40 are the most likely to experience dry eye problems.
Dry Eye Symptoms
Dry eye symptoms are quite simple to recognize, and are often impossible to overlook. Dry eye problems involve a near constant feeling of something being stuck in your eye, or a stinging, burning sensation. You may find that you have difficulty wearing contact lenses for any substantial period of time, and your vision may even blur. You may develop stringy mucus in or around your eye, and you may be particularly sensitive to light.
Dry Eye Treatment
Treatment for dry eye syndrome depends largely on the severity of the case and underlying causes. For many mild cases, eye drops may relieve the symptoms. However, if symptoms persist, more intensive treatment may be necessary. For more severe cases of dry eye, treatment options include several medications designed to decrease inflammation and stimulate production of tears. Surgical operations may be used to partially or completely block the ducts that allow tears to drain away from the eye.
Dry Eye after LASIK
Dry eye syndrome is a common condition that can occur after undergoing LASIK, PRK, or other types of refractive surgery. Post-LASIK dry eye symptoms occur when the tear ducts do not produce enough tears to keep the eyes moist, lubricated, and protected from environmental factors. To avoid dry eye after LASIK, patients should be sure to discuss prevention and treatment options with their ophthalmologist prior to refractive surgery and have their doctor screen for dry eye symptoms.
Refractive Surgery and Dry Eye Syndrome
Post-LASIK dry eye syndrome is one of the most frequent side effects of laser vision correction. Refractive surgery and dry eye symptoms go hand in hand, as dry eyes are simply a physical response to the nature of the procedure. In normal, healthy eyes, the corneal nerves supply information to the lacrimal (tear-producing) glands, maintaining a constant stream of tears. During refractive surgery, the corneal nerves are temporarily damaged, and are thus unable to produce adequate tears while the eyes are healing. As the patient recovers, so do the corneal nerves, and in most cases the tear ducts resume their normal functioning within a few weeks.
However, some patients with dry eye after LASIK will suffer more severe symptoms than others. For this reason, it is imperative that patients discuss any preexisting symptoms with their doctor before undergoing refractive surgery. The link between refractive surgery and dry eye symptoms is well established, and for this reason, most surgeons insist on screening for dry eye prior to refractive surgery. They evaluate the patient's current tear film and decide whether they should be treated for dry eyes in advance.
Post-LASIK Dry Eye Symptoms
Patients should be prepared for some post-LASIK dry eye symptoms, including pain, itchiness, redness, and bouts of blurred vision. It is important that patients use the moisturizing eye drops prescribed by their physician several times a day in the weeks following surgery. Not only will this help alleviate dry eye symptoms, it will also promote quicker healing of the cornea. Post-LASIK dry eye syndrome can last anywhere from a few weeks to two months as the corneal nerves heal and the eyes once again produce a sufficient tear film.
Chronic Dry Eye after LASIK
If post-LASIK dry eye symptoms persist, they can develop into chronic dry eye syndrome. In a certain percentage of patients, dry eye after LASIK may last for a prolonged period of time and can even become permanent. It is crucial that patients consider the potential for chronic dry eye after LASIK among the risks associated with refractive surgery. Although there are several dry eye treatment options available for post-LASIK dry eye, prevention should always be a top priority. Be sure your doctor screens for pre-LASIK dry eye symptoms before you undergo refractive surgery.
Locate a Dry Eye Doctor
If you're experiencing dry eye problems, use DocShop to locate doctors in your area who specialize in diagnosing and treating dry eye syndrome. Your doctor will be able to give you more information on the problem, and will work with you to determine the most effective solution.