According to the National Eye Institute, more than 16 million Americans suffer from dry eye disease. Even more patients report symptoms of dry eye to their eye doctor. Dry eye is a condition where the eyes don't produce enough tears, making it difficult to focus on tasks, causing discomfort, and even leading to vision problems if left untreated.
While it may sound the opposite of the condition, a key symptom of dry eye can also be the over-production of tears. In other words, your eyes water a lot more than normal. This is called epiphora.
A person's dry eye symptoms might be caused by any number of different factors, from things they can control to things they can't. However, knowing the most common causes of dry eye can help people to better understand the condition and make lifestyle changes that may reduce the severity of their symptoms. Read on to discover the six most common causes of dry eye.
As part of the eye's natural aging process, it is common for tear production to slow down over time. Typically, the lacrimal glands (located in the upper, outer part of the eye socket) produce enough tears to keep the eyes lubricated and healthy. This layer of lubrication on the eye's surface is called the tear film, and a healthy tear film is essential for keeping the surface of the eye healthy, protected, and comfortable.
But as a person ages, they may find that their tear glands don't produce enough tears to keep their eyes comfortable throughout the day. This can lead to dry eye symptoms such as a burning sensation, blurred vision, and red eyes. In other words, for people over the age of 50, suffering from dry eyes is likely a result of getting older—but that's not the only possible cause.
2. Other Biological Factors
Did you know women are significantly more likely to experience dry eye than men? In fact, according to one study, dry eye affects women twice as often as men(opens in a new tab). There are several explanations for this. First, women are generally more likely to seek out medical treatment than men, meaning they're more likely to be diagnosed. Second, women tend to live longer than men, and since age is a major risk factor for dry eye, this could be another contributing factor.
Third, hormonal changes are also known to cause issues with dry eye. For example, during pregnancy and menopause, a person will naturally experience an alteration in their hormone levels, which can cause decreased tear production. Even smaller shifts in estrogen levels during a normal menstrual cycle can cause these issues, resulting in symptoms of dry eye like blurry vision and discomfort.
Dry eye can also be exacerbated by androgens, or 'male' hormones like testosterone, which are naturally produced by both males and females. For instance, a woman with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a disorder caused by the presence of too many androgens, is more likely to suffer from dry eye as a result.
3. Computer Use
If you suffer from dry eye, your biology might not be to blame—it might be the time you spend looking at digital screens! Prolonged computer use is a clear risk factor for dry eye. The condition, dubbed Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS), can cause or worsen existing symptoms of dry eye like burning, redness, and blurred vision.
hen you're using a computer, tablet, or smartphone, your eyes are exposed to a lot of blue light. Blue light is a high-energy, short-wavelength kind of visible light. While some blue light exposure is normal, extended periods of time can cause eye strain and dryness.
In addition, when we look at screens, we tend to blink less often than we normally would, which can also contribute to dry eye. When we don't blink as often, the tear film on the surface of our eyes isn't replaced as quickly, leading to discomfort and irritation.
Your office setup might be to blame. Poor lighting, glare from screens, and even the type of font you're reading can all contribute to CVS. To minimize the risk of developing or exacerbating dry eye due to computer use, it's important to make any needed adjustments to your workspace and give your eyes frequent breaks throughout the day.
4. Environmental Factors
Even though spring brings beautiful weather every year, it also brings allergies with it. While it is possible to have eye allergy all year round, spring tends to be when you will notice dry eye symptoms the most. As pollen fills the air, it can aggravate existing dry eye symptoms or create new ones. In fact, allergies are known to cause a dry eye symptom that may seem counter-intuitive: excess tears.
The great outdoors can cause other issues for your eyes as well. On a particularly windy or especially hot day, for instance, tears evaporate quicker. A dry day can also cause increased tear evaporation, leading to dryness and irritation. Even pollution can affect our eyes by causing inflammation and damage.
Cigarette smoke is particularly problematic, as it not only increases a person's risk for dry eye, but other serious eye problems as well. According to the CDC(opens in a new tab), smoking can also cause macular degeneration and cataracts, both of which can lead to vision loss and blindness.
5. Contact Lenses
Wearing contacts is another common risk factor for dry eye, especially if you're wearing them longer than the recommended duration. For instance, if you tend to wear your contacts to bed, you'll likely find yourself reaching for eye drops once you wake up.
Contacts can make it difficult for oxygen to reach your eyes, which can cause irritation and redness. In addition, if not taken out and cleaned regularly, they might be trapping bacteria on the surface of your eyes. This can lead to dryness and infection, no matter the type of lens you're wearing or how well you take care of them.
To minimize the risk of dry eye related to contact lenses, it's important to follow the guidelines from your eye doctor. This includes taking them out and cleaning them regularly, as well as following the recommended duration for wear time. If you're experiencing any discomfort, always be sure to consult with your doctor.
6. Certain Conditions and Medications
Dry eye can also be a symptom of other medical conditions, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren's syndrome, thyroid disorders, and more. These conditions can cause the glands that produce tears to be damaged or blocked, leading to dryness.
Certain medications can also lead to dry eye. Antihistamines, antidepressants, birth control, and even certain acne medications can all decrease tear production, leading to irritation and discomfort. If you think your medication might be causing dry eye, it's important to speak with the doctor who prescribed these medications.
How Conestoga Eye Can Help
Several treatments for dry eye are available, from artificial tears to punctal plugs that block the tear ducts in the inner corners of the eye to help retain moisture. At Conestoga Eye, our experienced eye care professionals will help determine the best treatment for your individual needs.
Our experts can also help you determine if there are any lifestyle changes you can make to combat your dry eye. For instance, if you have allergies, something as simple as wearing sunglasses when going outside can help reduce the amount of pollen and other allergens entering your eyes. Or, if you are interested in computer glasses with a blue light filter, our optical team can advise you on the best lens options.
No matter the cause of your dry eye symptoms, we’re here to help. Schedule an appointment online with Conestoga Eye today and get the relief you need!