If you’re struggling with chronic dry eye, you’re not alone. Researchers estimate at least 16 million US adults have chronic dry eye. But the red, itchy, burning eyes it causes aren’t the only issue you need to be aware of if you suffer from this persistent problem.
At Eldorado Vision & Optical, eye health specialist Stacy Turner, OD, and our care team are committed to helping patients in McKinney, Texas, enjoy excellent eye health. That’s why we want you to understand the dangers of chronic dry eye — and why seeking treatment is vital for protecting your eye health.
Keep reading to learn more about chronic dry eye, including how we can help ease your discomfort and prevent complications.
Understanding chronic dry eye
Every time you blink, your tears move across the clear structure covering your eye (cornea). As you blink, your tears thin but remain as a moisture barrier until you blink again, pushing more tears over the surface and reinforcing the layers of tear film.
The tears your eyes make keep them lubricated so they don’t dry out. You can develop dry eyes for a short period, such as when you’re exposed to smoke, or have ongoing issues making tears.
Three tear layers
Your tears aren’t just water. They have fatty oils, mucus, proteins, and other substances that benefit your eyes. The outer layer of your tears is made of a fatty oil that stops your tears from evaporating too fast. It also lubricates your eyelids.
Most of your tears are in the middle layer, which is made of watery substances and keeps your eyes moist. The innermost layer of your tears is the mucus layer, which keeps your tears stable so they can be distributed evenly.
Dry eye causes
When something goes wrong with your tears, your eyes don’t get enough lubrication. This can make your eyes feel dry, itchy, red, and irritated.
You can develop chronic dry eye for a number of reasons, including as a side effect of taking certain medications and from environmental irritants. But underlying these reasons are three main problems:
- You don’t make enough tears
- You only make “low-quality” tears
- You have too little oil in your tears (meibomian gland dysfunction, or MGD)
Some people also develop chronic dry eye from lifestyle habits that lead to infrequent blinking. This occurs when we stare ahead with focus, such as when driving, looking at a computer or phone screen, watching television, or reading.
The dangers of chronic dry eye
Your tears play an important role in the health of your eyes and your ability to see. Not only do they keep your cornea lubricated to prevent your eyes from drying out, but they also:
- Transport oxygen and nutrients to nourish your eyes
- Help you see properly by aiding in the focus of light
- Contain an antibacterial enzyme to minimize infection
- Remove dirt, debris, and other irritants from your eyes
Having healthy and adequate tears is also important in case your eye gets injured, as the beneficial properties in your tears promote healing.
If you develop severe chronic dry eye, or if you have dry eyes for long periods without relief, you can develop complications, including:
- Blurry or worsening vision
- Higher risk of eye infections
- Scarring or thinning of the cornea
- Deteriorating eye health
- Permanent vision loss
Fortunately, chronic dry eye rarely results in long-term eye problems when treated by an eyecare provider who specializes in dry eye.
Treating chronic dry eye
The right treatment for your chronic dry eye depends on its underlying cause as well as the severity of your symptoms. That’s why seeing an eye health specialist is so important to your eye health.
At Eldorado Vision & Optical, Dr. Turner and our team evaluate your eye health, medical history, and symptoms to create a personalized dry eye treatment plan to ease your discomfort and protect your eye health.
For mild cases of dry eye, Dr. Turner may recommend making lifestyle changes, like setting a timer to blink or reducing screen time, or trying over-the-counter artificial tears to help lubricate your eyes.
Dr. Turner may also recommend using a prescription dry-eye medication that addresses the underlying problem affecting your tears, such as insufficient tear production or inflammation.
If Dr. Turner diagnoses you with meibomian gland dysfunction, she may recommend LipiFlow® by Johnson & Johnson Vision. This effective, drug-free treatment addresses MGD by safely stimulating your meibomian glands to correct the lack of oil that causes dry eye.
If you’re struggling with dry, red, irritated eyes, don’t wait to request an appointment online or over the phone with Dr. Turner at Eldorado Vision & Optical in McKinney, Texas, today.