What causes dry eyes?

Healthy eyes are always moist with fluids, also known as tear film— which plays a significant role in the health and vision of the eyes. The tear film protects the eyes by lubricating, washing away foreign agents, and preventing the eyes from infections.

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These benefits that come from having moist eyes are further enhanced by the essential components that make up a tear. These components include water, protein, fatty oil, antibodies, growth factors. However, if there is an alteration of the components in this mixture or insufficient production of tears, the fluid will be prone to drastic evaporation, thereby resulting in dry eyes. One can tell whether he or she has dry eyes if they notice a few signs—such as itching & redness of eyes, blurry vision, and extreme sensitivity to light, all of which may be due to an imbalance in the tear mixture.

The tear film that makes the eyes appear moist is made up of three primary components or layers; water (middle layer), oil (outer layer), and mucus (inner layer). The existence of abnormalities to any of these layers will result in dry eye symptoms.

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The layers of the tear film

The inner layer of the tear film contains mucus. The mucus allows the uniform distribution of tears over the eyes. It lubricates the eyes, apart from the primary functions of this layer that includes the moistening & lubrication of the eyes and acting as an adhesive body for the sticking of the tear to the eyes. It also provides nourishment to the cornea it is resting on. The occurrence of abnormalities to this layer will result in the presence of dry patches on the cornea part of the eyes.

The middle layer of the tear film contains water and salt (saline water) that originates from the tear gland of the eyes. The primary functions of this layer involve the washing away of particles and irritants that are liable to cause a variety of eye infections. This layer act as a hub between the outer layer and inner layer; hence the malfunctioning of this layer will make the outer and inner layer come in contact, which results in the thinning of this layer that may affect the primary functions of all layers and cause dry eyes symptoms.

The outer layer of the tear film contains oil that originates from the meibomian gland that links to the eyelids for the conveyance of oil to the eyes. The primary function of this layer is to forestall or mitigate the rate of evaporation of the tear. If there is an occurrence of malfunctions to this layer, it will result in the drastic evaporation of tears that cause dry eyes symptoms. Furthermore, blepharitis, Rosaceae, and any other type of dermatitis that causes the eyelids’ inflammation will bring about the blockading of the route that produces oils —that is, the meibomian gland and causes dry eyes symptoms.

What causes the malfunctioning of the layers?

The malfunctioning of the layers—such as the inner (mucus), middle (water), and outer (oils) layer that makes up the tear film is the primary cause of dry eyes. However, it does not happen by itself, but it is rather stimulated by a few factors that include:

  • The natural aging process, especially menopause
  • Side effects of various medications
  • Impairment of the eyelids
  • Health conditions or Diseases

Natural aging process: As one gets older, there is an increase in the rate of one’s susceptibility to diseases because old age comes with the weakening of one’s immune system, and the standard functioning parts of the body weakens. One of these weaknesses includes the reduction in the production of tear—which makes dry and vulnerable to inflammation. It is, however prominent in women during menopause than men due to hormonal imbalance.

Side effects of various medications: Medications are primarily for the curing of one’s health issues. Still, most of them come with side effects that may be responsible for other health issues. The use of the following medications comes with the drying of one’s eyes as their side effects:
Antihistamines, Decongestants, Antidepressants, birth control pills, painkillers such as morphine, and a few kinds of diuretics.

Impairment of the eyelids: One of the primary functions of the eyelids is the uniform distribution of a thin film of tears over the eyes when one blinks. The impairment of the eyelids can be divided into two depending on their alteration of positions; ectropion, which is the inward turning of the eyelids, and ectropion which is the outward turning of the eyelids. They both affect the blinking movement of the eyelids, which results in the uneven distribution of tears across the eyes.

Health conditions or diseases: Dry eyes symptoms may be caused by several chronic health conditions or diseases that range from diabetes to sexually transmitted infections— they include autoimmune diseases (such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and scleroderma), vitamin A deficiency, collagen vascular diseases, Bell’s palsy, and HIV infections.

Dry eye treatments

There are several procedures for the treatment of dry eyes, that’s from the use of ointments to surgical procedures when it is severe. But it is always advisable to visit a physician who will run several tests on your eyes, to know the primary cause of your dry eyes, which could be due to the blockading of your glands in your eyelids, malnutrition, or your health conditions. All of which require a different recommendation for different treatment procedures to restore your dry eyes to normal. These treatments may include:

Artificial tear drops and ointments: The use of artificial tear drops and ointments is the most common treatment procedure. It involves the application of fluid in the eyes to keep them wet by boosting the production of tears.

Lipiflow: Lipiflow is a device that functions on the premise of heat and pressure. They are used for the removal of the components that block the flow of a thin film of tears via the eyelids.

Temporary punctal occlusion: This type of treatment procedure is done for individuals with a tear duct that causes the drastic drainage of tears from the eyes. Your doctor will first use a temporary plug (mostly silicon plug) design to reduce the flow of tears. Still, if it does not work by perfectly sealing the duct, your doctor will make use of the permanent plugs—this procedure is called thermal cautery.

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