Did you know dry eye syndrome is prevalent among older people?
In fact, about 4.88 million Americans aged 50 and above have this condition. However, younger people experience this, too, especially in this age of smartphones.
Dry eyes are not only irritating due to its symptoms, but it can also decrease the quality of life. This is why it’s important to get treatments, but you have to know its cause first before you get the right treatment.
Read on below to find out what causes dry eyes and what dry eye help you should seek.
Most Common Causes of Dry Eyes
It’s important to know how our eyes keep themselves moist and protected. That’s so we can understand how the factors below can cause dry eyes.
The eyes have what we call the tear film. It’s composed of an oily component, a watery component, and a mucous-like component.
All 3 work together to keep the whole surface of the eyes moist. The oily component, in particular, prevents the lubrication from drying out fast. When one or the other develops an issue, the eyes will dry out and not have enough protection from dust and such.
Now, let’s see what are the most common causes of dry eyes.
While dry eye can occur to anyone at any age, a person’s risks for it increase as they grow older. This is because with old age comes a lot of reduction in the natural body processes.
Tear production decreases with age. The composition of the tear film undergoes some changes, as well.
If a person already has dry eyes, growing older can exacerbate their symptoms. This can further worsen if they have diseases that affect the eyes’ production of tears. They undergo many hormonal changes, as well, which we’ll discuss below.
2. Change in Hormones
Although doctors aren’t sure why, changes in the hormones in the body can cause dry eyes. Due to this, women are more susceptible to having dry eyes, often coming as a symptom of menopause. The low level of hormones, like estrogen and progesterone, during these years cause multiple changes in the body.
They can get dry eyes as a side effect of pregnancy, too, since their bodies go through many hormonal changes. Some women even get dry eyes as a result of their monthly periods.
Men experience this, too, as low levels of androgens have a direct link to dry eyes. It can affect the ability of the eyes to create tears or tear film.
Low levels of thyroid hormones and insulin may also lead to dry eyes. Insulin deficiency, in particular, affects the lacrimal glands’ ability to make tears.
3. Side Effect of Medications
If you have medications, these may be the reason for your dry eyes. Even common drugs like pain relievers can have this condition as a side effect. Ibuprofen, among other NSAIDs, can trigger it, but it doesn’t happen too often.
Antihistamines block certain body responses like sneezing and runny nose. While that’s a major relief, the bad news is that it can also hinder tear production. The same is true for decongestants, which work by reducing the swelling
As birth control pills mess with the hormones, this makes it another possible cause of dry eyes. Acne medicines like isotretinoin mess with the glands producing oil to clear up acne. The bad news is that this includes the glands in your eyelids, leading to less oil production.
Other medications that mess with tear production are blood pressure medicines, medications for Parkinson’s, sleeping pills, antidepressants, and more.
There are diseases that have a direct effect on the production of tears, leading to dry eyes.
Sjogren’s syndrome, for example, is an autoimmune disease. It makes your immune system attack the glands producing tears and saliva. Blepharitis is also an example of a disease that goes hand-in-hand with dry eyes. It’s a condition in which your eyelids become inflamed, messing with tear secretion.
Other diseases either have dry eyes as a side effect or a symptom. Lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and other autoimmune diseases affect the secretion of tears. Shingles, HIV, and even Bell’s Palsy can also lead to dry eyes.
As we mentioned above, lower levels of insulin affect tear production. This is why it may also come as a side effect of type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Furthermore, nerve damage due to diabetes may also interrupt the conversation between the corneal nerves and the lacrimal gland nerves.
A person may also get dry eyes due to environmental factors, like smoke from cigarettes or cars. Dry air, like inside an airplane, is also a cause, along with a dry climate in your location. Fans can also hasten the evaporation of tears, with which your glands might not keep up.
Activities that slow down the blink rate, from using a smartphone to doing surgery, may also lead to dry eyes. Blinking is a crucial process in distributing tears across the eyes. Staring at computer screens and focusing on tasks will interfere with that.
Substances and particles in the environment, like pollen, can also trigger allergies. This will then contribute to drying of the eyes.
Dry Eye Treatment Options
Dry eye can be temporary, as in the case of allergies and environmental causes, but it can also last a long time. It can become a chronic disease, which will require more extensive treatments. Whether temporary or chronic, here are examples of dry eye treatment options.
1. Using Eye Drops or Artificial Tears
For dry eyes caused by too much computer use, eye drops for dry eyes would work well. Eye drops and artificial tears will supply the tears needed to keep the eyes moist.
Eye drops with low viscosity are great for a quick perk me up as they don’t cause blurry vision when you apply them. The effects of watery drops are short-lived, though. If you want something longer lasting, thick or gel-like drops are better.
The downside of this is that the vision will be blurry for a few minutes. This isn’t recommended for when you’re driving or when you’re in the middle of a task.
Eye drops also vary in formulations. Some may work better for an evaporative dry eye condition, for example. Make sure to talk to your doctor to see which is better for your specific condition.
If you need something more than OTC drops, your doctor may prescribe Restasis. You use it like you would an eye drop, but it’s different in the way it works. It aims to treat dry eye syndrome in the long-term, and so you would have to use it every day and as prescribed.
It may take about 90 days before you could feel its effects. It might also have some uncomfortable side effects in the beginning. In the end, though, it will help your body produce natural tears by itself so you won’t need it beyond the treatment plan.
Some dry eyes are due to inflammation, and for this, artificial tears won’t work. You’ll need steroid eye drops to address this issue, which will then fix your dry eye problem.
2. Using Medications
Fighting inflammation can also come packaged as a capsule if your doctor deems it better for your specific circumstances. It may also come as oral antibiotics, some of which proved to be good at stimulating oil production.
Then we also have cholinergic drugs i.e. pilocarpine, cevimeline. These stimulate tear production, which is helpful if the issue isn’t the oil secretion.
3. Undergoing Eye Procedures
Aside from evaporating, tears can also exit through the tear ducts in the eyes. If tears drain away too fast, you may have to undergo a procedure in which they will close one or more of the tear ducts.
They do this by plugging tiny silicone or gel-like punctual plugs into the openings. A doctor can remove one or more of these with no problem, which might become a necessity if these cause watery eyes.
If the problem is Meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD), for instance, your doctor might perform a procedure called Meibomian gland expression. In this disorder, the openings of the glands get clogged, leading to less oil production. The procedure will squeeze out the clogged content, which is usually hardened meibum.
Another procedure that does the same is LipiFlow. The only difference is that applies heat instead to soften the hardened meibum.
In some cases, surgical procedures may be necessary for the patient. An example is punctual cauterization, which also blocks the tear ducts to prevent tears from draining. In this procedure, the doctor applies heat to the duct, resulting in their permanent closure.
If treatments don’t work, your doctor may consider salivary gland transplantation. In this procedure, a doctor will remove salivary glands from the lower lip. He/she will then place it in the side of the eyes, allowing it to work like a lacrimal gland.
It will still produce saliva, but it will be able to help keep the eyes moist.
4. Caring for Your Eyes at Home
Sometimes, you may have to do additional caring at home on top of treatments prescribed by your doctor. In the case of blepharitis, for example, you’ll have to clean your eyelids to keep inflammation at bay.
You may do this by cleaning the eyelids with mild soap and then massaging the area near the base of the eyelashes. You may also use a warm, damp cloth to rub the eyelashes in a gentle way to get rid of the buildup.
For mild cases of dry eyes, though, blinking more often might take care of that. Doing full blinks (pressing the eyelids together) will also help distribute the tears. Using eye/sunglasses to protect the eyes from the sun, wind, and particles will also help.
5. Treating the Underlying Medical Cause
Treating the medical disorder that’s causing the dry eyes would usually make it go away. Sometimes, though, dry eyes might persist even after the medical cause is gone. In this case, it may have turned into Chronic Dry Eye Syndrome and you need another treatment for dry eye.
As some medications also lead to dry eyes, discontinuing them once you’re cured should also make the dry eyes go away, as well.
However, note that some diseases may have permanent damages that affect tear production. Then, we also have to consider that not all diseases have a cure. This means that you’re going to have to explore other treatment options that might work best.
Get Dry Eye Help From a Medical Professional
The exact cause of dry eyes can be hard to pinpoint, especially if it persists in your daily life. If you’re unsure what’s causing your dry eyes, you’ll need to talk to a professional. Contact us today for dry eye help and assistance in other eye issues.