Over 10 million Americans suffer from dry eye syndrome, which is caused by a problem with the quality of the tear film that lubricates the eye. There are three layers to the eye’s tears: (1) The mucus layer coats the cornea; (2) the aqueous layer provides moisture, oxygen, and other nutrients to the cornea; and (3) the outer lipid layer is an oily film that helps prevent evaporation. Tears are formed in the glands around the eye; with each blink of the eye, eyelids spread tears over the eye. Tears that respond to injury or emotion are known as reflex tears. They do little to lubricate a dry eye, however.
Dry eyes are part of the normal aging process, but hot, dry, windy climates and high altitudes can cause dry eye, also. Air conditioning, cigarette smoke, and reading or working at a computer screen for a long time without a break are also causes of dry eye syndrome. Contact lens wearers have dry eyes, and some medications cause dryness. Symptoms include burning, itching, irritation, redness, and blurred vision that improves with eye blinking. The condition is diagnosed when a primary care provider or ophthalmologist measures the production, evaporation rate, and the quality of the tear film. Using preservative free artificial tears on a regular basis is the most common treatment for dry eye syndrome. On occasion, closing the tear drain in the eyelid with special inserts may be instituted. These plugs trap the tears on the eye. Drinking at least eight glasses of water each day is helpful. Clients are to be reminded not to rub their eyes.