How Dry I Am!

By: Red Hot Mamas

Published: May 26, 2010

With all of the tears we shed from childhood to 50+ years of age, who would have thought we could end up having “dry eyes”?

We’ve cried for love, for loss, for joy, for anger and a host of emotions too many to list. We’ve even cried at TV commercials. Maybe we’ve just run out of tears around 50.

Nope, other things happen. Physical changes occur to make our eyes dry.

My eyes started to get dry almost the day I turned 50, and I have been a busy doctor since then trying to discover ways to relieve the trouble and discomfort that dry eyes cause. Because I recognized and experienced dryness first hand, I have great empathy for others with the same problem.

I would like to share some of my discoveries with you. I will pose, and then answer some questions.

Q. How do you know if you have Dry Eyes?
A. There are some very specific symptoms caused by dry eyes and they include: itching, stinging, burning, redness, intermittent blurring of vision at far and near, eye strain, and believe it or not, a lot of excessive watering of the eyes, causing the eyes to run water like a faucet was turned on.

Q. What makes an eye dry, is it just lack of water?
A. Water is only part of the tear layer. Actually your tear composition is rather complex. Healthy tears that coat the eye and make it comfortable are actually made up of 3 layers. The outer most layer is a light skim of oil produced by glands at the edge of the eyelids. This is the protective layer; it floats on the second layer and prevents that layer below from evaporating. This second layer in is the aqueous or watery layer. It contains proteins, enzymes, electrolytes and immune system components to help protect the eye against invasion from germs and allergens. Beneath the aqueous layer is a layer of slippery clear material called mucin, which binds the water layer to the surface of the eyeball itself. All three layers must be present in proper proportion or you can have a dry eye.

Q. So what makes this Dry Eye problem occur in the first place?
A. Some times folks just develop dryness over time (aging), but there are very significant things that contribute to dry eyes: Air conditioning, medicines -like allergy meds and hormones (or lack thereof) for example, and coffee, alcohol, stress, low humidity, dry skin, and poor hydration.

Q. Why do dry eyes water?

A. I can best answer that with another question: Have you ever had a good emotional cry, and when it is over look at yourself in the mirror? You have blood shot eyes, and they feel terrible, don’t they? You betcha. What has happened is that all the normal maintenance tears in your eyes have been washed out by the “emergency” tear system, the backup tear-producing gland used when we cry, or get very irritated. Emergency tears have no outer or inner layer to hold moisture onto the eyeball. There is no slippery activity to keep you comfortable. So your eyes get red and irritable. So, really, we have 2 tear producing mechanisms. The “maintenance tears” with the 3 layers that keep us comfortable, and the “emergency tear system” that we use when we cry. We use this second system to wash out debris when we cry, but it does nothing to keep the eye comfortable.

If your eyes get irritated from poor quality “3-layer maintenance tears” often the “emergency” system starts up because the sensory nerves of the eye think there is trouble, and this can cause problems over time.

So what can we do about this “tempest in a teapot”?

There are a variety of products on the market designed to relieve and improve the dry eye condition. One in particular is the Refresh Brand, a family of products available for relief of dry eye symptoms. However, the very best way to determine what’s right for you is to consult your eye care provider: your optometrist or ophthalmologist, and get his or her professional analysis of what makes you dry and how you can best treat it.

Let’s run down a preliminary “check list” for symptoms.

  1. Your eyes are occasionally (two or three time a day) tired, irritated, dry feeling. The feeling is fleeting, and often doesn’t bother you much at all. You might be an office worker and under 50 years of age and you don’t take a lot of medicines.
  2. Your eyes are consistently dry and irritated by day’s end. This happens more often than not.
  3. You awaken with scratchy red and irritable eyes morning after morning and no eye drop seems to provide adequate protection over night.
  4. Nothing seems to keep your eyes comfortable, no matter what you do!

Depending on what symptoms you experience, Refresh has a variety of products to provide relief. Dry Eyes can be treated, so I hope this information has empowered you to take a new look at what can be done to relieve this often-understood problem and eliminate it from your life.

Dr. Wes Wheadon, Optometrist in Los Angeles, CA