Dry eye affects millions of people each year, and many more live undiagnosed, but what causes this condition? There are several causes of dry eye disease, including aspects of your life such as age, gender, or medical conditions.
Before you book an appointment with your optometrist, learn more about the types and causes of dry eye.
What Causes Dry Eye?
Dry eye is a common and usually chronic eye condition affecting over 16 million Americans. Your eyes are lubricated by tears each time you blink. Tears provide your eyes with moisture and protection, keeping your eyes clear, but complications can arise when tear production and drainage are not balanced.
You can be affected by dry eye for two main reasons: poor quality of tears or an inadequate amount of tears.
Poor quality of tears
Your tears are made from three layers of mucin, water, and oil. The oil layer prevents tears from evaporating and the mucus layer spreads tears evenly over the surface of your eye. When the quality of your tears is impacted by an issue in one of these layers, you can experience dry eye.
Your tears can evaporate too quickly if the oil layer is impacted and this is a leading cause of dry eye. It is referred to as evaporative dry eye disease.
Inadequate tear production
Your tears are produced by glands in and around your eyelids which help to moisten your eyes each time you blink. When these glands do not produce enough tears, your eyes can become dry and irritated as there are not enough tears to effectively be dragged across the surface of your eye.
This can happen for a variety of different reasons, and this type of dry eye is referred to as aqueous deficient dry eye disease.
What can cause dry eye?
Dry eye disease can develop for several different reasons. Both aqueous deficient and evaporative dry eye have different causes, but some general sources include:
Dry eye can happen to anyone but is more common in older adults. During the aging process, you become more susceptible to dry eyes, and the majority of people over age 65 can experience dry eye symptoms.
Your gender can contribute to the development of dry eye. This is typically due to hormonal changes within women’s lives such as menopause, and pregnancy, and the use of oral contraceptives.
Certain medical conditions can increase your risk of developing dry eye. Some conditions include:
Certain medications can reduce your overall tear production. These can include:
Certain aspects of your everyday life may contribute to your dry eyes. Environmental factors such as smoke, wind, and drier climates can increase tear evaporation. Failing to blink regularly when using the computer for long periods can affect you as well.
If you are suffering from the effects of dry eye, there can be several potential causes, and these may vary depending on the type of dry eye disease affecting you. Both variants share similar causes, but aqueous deficient and evaporative dry eye affect you in different ways. Depending on the type of dry eye disease, how is it caused?
Evaporative Dry Eye
Evaporative dry eye is caused by an issue with the glands within your eyelids. Oil releases from small (meibomian) glands when you produce tears and prevents your tears from drying out.
These glands can become blocked or clogged, causing the tears on your eye to evaporate. Improperly functioning glands can cause evaporative dry eye as well.
There are several causes of evaporative dry eye:
- Environmental factors
- Eyelid conditions
- Infrequent blinking
- Posterior blepharitis
- Eye allergies
- Vitamin A deficiency
Aqueous Deficient Dry Eye
Your tears hydrate your eyes each time you blink and aqueous deficient dry eye is caused by a lack of this production. It can be caused by:
- Medical conditions
- Desensitized corneal nerves
There are several potential causes for your dry eyes, so rather than trying to figure out what is causing your symptoms yourself, speak with your optometrist. They can diagnose and help manage your dry eye symptoms. Until then, using preventative measures can help reduce the effects of dry eye and improve your quality of life.
Dry Eye Prevention
Some potential causes of dry eye are related to your environment and can be preventable. While this may not stop your dry eye symptoms, it can provide needed relief. Some preventive measures can include:
Giving your eyes a break
If you are working for long periods on your computer, make sure to blink regularly and rest your eyes when needed.
You can close your eyes for a few minutes at a time, or utilize the 20/20/20 rule. Every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break and look at something at least 20 feet away.
Avoid blowing air & smoke
Environmental factors may be contributing to your dry eye symptoms, and you can make efforts to avoid and reduce these factors. Hairdryers, air conditioners, and fans can be positioned away from your eyes. When you’re outside, wraparound sunglasses and other protective eyewear can block wind, dry air, and smoke.
Add moisture to your air
During the winter, or if you live in a dry climate, a humidifier can add moisture to the air inside your home which can help reduce your dry eye symptoms.
These measures are only preventative and are not a cure for your dry eye. An optometrist can help you find the most effective solution for your unique needs.
Manage Your Dry Eyes
No matter the cause of your dry eye, you deserve to find long-term comfort and relief. If you are experiencing any dry eye symptoms, request an appointment with your optometrist.