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What Causes Dry Eye?

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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:  

Age 

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

Gender

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

Medical Conditions 

Certain medical conditions can increase your risk of developing dry eye. Some conditions include: 

Medications

Certain medications can reduce your overall tear production. These can include: 

Environmental factors

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:

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:

  • Medications
  • Medical conditions
  • Age
  • 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. 

A humidifier being used to keep the air moist in a dry climate

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. 

Written by Dr. Aaron Sako

Dr. Sako, who was born in Santa Monica and raised in Cerritos, first joined the La Paz Optometric family in 2001. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science in biological sciences in 1995 from the University of California Irvine, before earning his Doctor of Optometry, graduating with honors in 2000 from Nova Southeastern University in South Florida.

Dr. Sako’s current areas of focus are primary care, surgical consultations, surgical co-management, and specialty contact lenses. He is also glaucoma certified and is licensed in the use of therapeutic and diagnostic pharmaceutical agents. Dr. Sako has extensive clinical experience and training, and spent time at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Miami, Florida and the Aker Kasten Cataract and Laser Eye Institute in Boca Raton, Florida, before joining the La Paz Optometric team.

Dr. Sako is an affiliate member of a prominent Orange County laser center, allowing his patients to benefit from his unique understanding of LASIK, which he, himself, has undergone. He has also co-managed thousands of refractive procedures. A proponent of lifelong learning, Dr. Sako is also certified in Corneal Refractive Therapy (CRT), which is a non-surgical option for correcting nearsightedness, which involves patients wearing specialty contact lenses during sleep.

Dr. Sako is a member of the American Optometric Association, the California Optometric Association, the Orange County Optometric Association, the Orange County Optometrist Club, and the Asian American Optometric Society. He is currently a member of the executive board for the Asian American Optometric Society and has been since 2004. He is also a member of the prestigious Advisory Board to Vision Laser Eye Centers in Newport Beach, California.

Dr. Sako believes in the importance of community service and always striving for excellence. This former Eagle Scout is currently an active member of the Mission Viejo Rotary Club and provides charitable annual eye exams and care through this organization to children in Baja, Mexico.

Dr. Sako lives in Ladera Ranch with his wife, Mako, and their three children Skylar, Payton, and Colby. When he is not helping patients, Dr. Sako enjoys exercising, skiing, playing golf, and spending time with friends and family. He also has a keen interest in music, and enjoys playing the Tahitian drums and strumming on his ukulele.

More Articles by Dr. Aaron Sako

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