Our modern era of contact lenses and multiple screens may be providing us with great convenience, but they are also among the many causes of our dry eyes. Those burning, itching, sandpaper-y feelings are not just uncomfortable, they may may be an indication that your eyesight is suffering.
Besides the obvious, other symptoms of dry eyes may include:
- A stinging, burning or scratchy sensation in your eyes
- Stringy mucus in or around your eyes
- Sensitivity to light
- Eye redness
- A sensation of having something in your eyes
- Difficulty wearing contact lenses
- Difficulty with nighttime driving
- Watery eyes, which is the body's response to the irritation of dry eyes
- Blurred vision or eye fatigue
The most common reason your eyes may be feeling dry is that you are not making enough tears. The official name for that condition is keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS), or just “dry eye syndrome.” KCS is a side effect of various medical conditions, including diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, scleroderma, Sjogren's syndrome, thyroid disorders and vitamin A deficiency. It can also be a by-blow of certain medications, including antihistamines, decongestants, hormone replacement therapy, antidepressants, and drugs for high blood pressure, acne, birth control and Parkinson's disease.
Your body may be making enough tears, but you can still suffer from dry eyes if they evaporate too quickly. This can occur if the chemical balance of your tears is a little off and doesn't include enough oil and mucus, along with water, in its composition. The oil is generated from tiny glands on the side of your eyelids, and if they become blocked or clogged (a condition common among people suffering from certain skin disorders) your tears won't stick around for very long.
There are a number of aggravating factors that will make dry eyes worse or may make it more likely you will suffer from them. The big, inescapable one is age. The glands that make tears do not work as well as you age, causing you to make fewer. And as your eyelids begin to sag, the seal between them and your eyeball that keeps in moisture begins to break.
Atmospheric conditions such as wind, smoke or a lack of humidity can all make a bad case of dry eyes even worse.
Your doctor can measure your tear production using strips of blotting paper placed under your eyelids. She can determine your tear quality using special eyedrop dyes. If your dry eye condition can't be cleared up by clearing out some glands, or merits something more than mere over-the-counter meds (such as “artificial tears”), your doctor may prescribe tear-inducing drugs, or eyedrops designed to control corneal inflammation.
Sources: The Mayo Clinic