Sometimes people don’t produce enough tears or the right quality of tears to keep their eyes healthy and comfortable. This condition is known as dry eye.
The tear film consists of three layers:
- An oily layer;
- A watery layer;
- A layer of mucus.
Each layer has its own purpose. The oily layer, produced by the meibomian glands, forms the outermost surface of the tear film. Its main purpose is to smooth the tear surface and reduce evaporation of tears. As we age the meibomian glands can become less effective or even stop functioning at all.
The middle watery layer makes up most of what we ordinarily think of as tears. This layer, produced by the lacrimal glands in the eyelids, cleanses the eye and washes away foreign particles or irritants.
The inner layer consists of mucus produced by the conjunctiva. Mucus allows the watery layer to spread evenly over the surface of the eye and helps the eye remain moist. Without mucus, tears would not stick to the eye.
Normally, the eye constantly bathes itself in tears. By producing tears at a slow and steady rate, the eye stays moist and comfortable.
The eye uses two different methods to produce tears. It can make tears at a slow, steady rate to maintain normal eye lubrication. It can also produce a lot of tears in response to eye irritation or emotion. When a foreign body or dryness irritates the eye, or when a person cries, excessive tearing occurs.
It may not sound logical that dry eye would cause excess tearing, but think of it as the eye’s response to discomfort. If the tears responsible for maintaining lubrication do not keep the eye wet enough, the eye becomes irritated. Eye irritation prompts the gland that makes tears (called the lacrimal gland) to release a large volume of tears, overwhelming the tear drainage system. These excess tears then overflow from your eye.
There are many levels of treatment for dry eyes. It can start with artificial tears used several times a day. The formulations range from very liquid to a more viscous gel formulation. Also in the supplement category are ointments used primarily at bedtime. This works by replenishing moisture during your sleep as well as functioning as a barrier for those people that sleep with their eyelids slightly cracked rather than shut completely. The ointments also offer a nice barrier against outside environmental influences while sleeping such as fans or cPap's air overflow.
Heat compresses have been shown to be very effective in stimulating that oily flow from the meibomian glands. Best delivery method is usually the Brudder Mask. These can be purchased here at Lifetime Eyecare Solutions.
There are several different prescription interventions available such as Restasis and Xiidra. Other treatment options include short term steroid use or Lipiflow which is a treatment that helps to stimulate the meibomian glands with external heat and expression of those glands.