Understanding Dry Eyes

by Oct 2, 2019

Many Americans experience some degree of dryness, burning, and irritation associated with dry eye disease.  Many different factors can contribute to these symptoms, and understanding what may be causing your dry eyes is important in treating your symptoms and improving your ocular health.  There are two main causes of dry eye disease: the eyes aren’t producing enough tears, or the tears being produced by your eyes aren’t the right consistency. Continue reading to learn more about the forms of dry eye disease and what they mean for ocular health. 


Understanding the Tear Film and Dry Eye

In order to understand dry eyes, it is important to first understand the eye’s tear film.  The tears are responsible for keeping the front surface of the eye lubricated, nourished, and comfortable.  The tear film is composed of three layers. The innermost layer is called the mucin layer and is responsible for keeping the tears on the front of the eye.  The middle layer is the watery aqueous layer, which contains the nutrients and lubrication to keep the front surface of the eye comfortable and healthy. The outermost layer is an oily lipid layer that prevents the tears from evaporating.  If these three layers are disrupted, it is likely that symptoms of dryness and irritation will arise. 


Are Your Eyes Making Enough Tears?

In some cases of dry eye disease, the glands responsible for the watery portion of the tears are under-producing the aqueous layer.  This form is known as Aqueous Deficiency. Aqueous deficiency means the tear film is thin and there is not enough liquid to properly cover the front surface of the eye, depriving the cornea of much needed nutrients and lubrication.  Your optometrist can diagnose this form of dry eye by measuring tear production and evaluating the tear film. If this is the primary cause of your dry eye symptoms, treatment options such as lubricating artificial tears are an effective option. Other treatment options, such as punctal plugs, are designed to reduce tear drainage and keep the nourishing aqueous layer on the front of the eye for a longer period of time. 


Meibomian Gland Dysfunction and Dry Eye

A more common cause of dry eye disease is Meibomian gland dysfunction.  The outer lipid layer of the tear film is released by millions of tiny glands, called Meibomian glands, that line the eyelids.  These small glands are extremely susceptible to blockage or damage. If this occurs, the oil is not being properly released into the tear film.  The oily lipid layer plays an important role in preventing tear evaporation and promoting a stable tear film, so in cases of Meibomian gland dysfunction, the front of the eye is often left unprotected due to the unstable tears.  Treating Meibomian gland dysfunction can be difficult to treat, but frequently includes lipid-based artificial tears and diligent eyelid hygiene to promote healthy Meibomian glands. Simple steps such as warm compresses and lid scrubs can be effective in releasing oil back into the tear film and reducing symptoms of dryness and irritation.  

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Our eye doctors, optometrists, and staff at Nittany Eye Associates excel in the prescription of diagnosis and treatment of dry eye disease and meibomian gland dysfunction.  Call us at (814) 234-2015 or schedule an appointment online.  Our optometrists provide the highest quality eye exams and eye care services in the State College, Matilda, Spring Mills, Tyrone, and Lock Haven PA areas. 




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