Dry eye syndrome is a very common eye condition. It can cause some minor discomfort, but when left untreated, the symptoms can get worse.
As the symptoms worsen, they can lead to other conditions that can cause serious and irreversible damage to your eyes and vision. They may not seem very serious when you first experience dry eye symptoms.
However, if they don’t go away, you may have dry eye syndrome (DES). If you struggle with dry eyes, you should talk to your eye doctor so they can determine if you have DES and help you treat it accordingly.
Keep reading to learn more about dry eye syndrome and if it can lead to other eye conditions!
What is Dry Eye Syndrome?
Dry Eye Syndrome is when your eyes are chronically dry because they aren’t getting enough moisture. Everyone can get dry eyes from time to time from dry weather, contact lenses, and dehydration, but when the symptoms don’t go away when these factors are corrected, it may be because you have DES.
Dry eyes often feel like they’re burning, stinging, and that there’s some grit in the eye even when there’s nothing in them. Dry eyes often also water and appear reddened.
Whether these symptoms are caused by temporary factors or DES, dry eyes are the result of inadequate tear production. When you have DES, this inadequacy may be linked to another underlying issue, like certain skin conditions and other medical conditions.
DES is more common in older patients and women, especially women going through hormonal changes like menopause. Hormonal changes can cause chemical imbalances in the body that, in turn, can affect your tear production.
What Causes Dry Eye Syndrome?
We know that DES is caused by poor tear production, but what exactly does this mean? To understand that, you first need to know what components make up your tears.
Tears are composed of three layers: the innermost layer is mucus, the middle layer is water, and the outer protective layer is oil. In dry eye syndrome, either your eyes aren’t producing enough tears, or the tears they produce aren’t of good quality.
If your eyes aren’t producing enough of the components of one of the layers, the tears will not be of good quality. It’s very common for the lacking tear layer to be the oil layer.
The oil that coats your tears is produced by glands called meibomian glands. These glands can become inflamed due to a buildup of bacteria and as a result of certain skin conditions.
This can cause the glands to not function correctly, and the oil can harden and get stuck within the glands. This causes your tears to lack their protective layer, so they evaporate faster than they should on the surface of your eye.
Meibomian gland dysfunction is frequently the cause of DES. But no matter the reason, when DES is left untreated, it can lead to serious problems.
Potential Complications of Dry Eye Syndrome
The reason your eyes produce tears is because your eyes need moisture in order to stay healthy. The flow of tears over the surface of your eye doesn’t just make them feel comfortable.
It also flushes out bacteria and helps your eyes heal from injury. When you have DES, your eyes are chronically dried out and aren’t getting enough moisture.
That means they aren’t flushing out all the various bacteria that can get in your eye. When left untreated, DES can lead to serious infections. It can also cause corneal ulcers.
When your eye gets scratched in any way, even from something as simple as a makeup brush or fingernail, it can cause an abrasion. When your eyes are dried out, they are much more prone to corneal abrasions.
Usually, tear flow is able to help these minor abrasions heal. However, when your eyes are dried out, it can be difficult for them to heal, and they can get worse, becoming infected and forming ulcers.
Corneal ulcers can be treated, but when your tears aren’t producing enough tears, it’s hard for them to heal even with treatment. This can cause scar tissue to form on the eye, which can affect your vision.
When this happens, your vision may not be able to be entirely restored. Because of the complications that can come from DES, it’s extremely important to have it treated.
With treatment, you can avoid these complications and save your vision.
What Treatment Is Available for Dry Eye Syndrome?
When you’re first diagnosed with DES, your eye doctor may suggest some simple lifestyle changes before any further treatment. This may include using a humidifier in your home, drinking more water, practicing lid hygiene, and getting more nutrients that aid in tear production, like Omega-3. Your eye doctor may also recommend that you increase your use of artificial tears.
Sometimes, these simple treatments are enough to ease most of your DES symptoms. However, if these changes do not help improve your dry eye syndrome, your eye doctor may recommend further treatment.
There are other non-invasive professional treatments that may help improve your symptoms. At Chicago Cornea Consultants, we offer two of these treatments: Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) therapy and Lipiflow.
IPL uses light in order to reduce inflammation of the lower eyelids, which is often what causes DES. Lipiflow targets meibomian gland dysfunction specifically, using a device that emits heat to soften the thickened oils stuck in the glands.
If you’re experiencing frequent dry eye symptoms, don’t wait to get help. Schedule an appointment at Chicago Cornea Consultants in Chicago, IL, today, so we can help you get the treatment you need!