The sensation of dryness of the eyes is common. If the sensation is present on a daily basis for more than 3 months, it should be evaluated by an ophthalmologist. There are many potential causes, including medications, inflammatory conditions affecting the surface of the eye, thyroid eye disease, blockage of oil glands in the eyelids (meibominitis), a poor blink reflex, and Sjögren’s syndrome. The symptoms of dry eyes vary. Some patients report a feeling of grit or sand in their eyes. Others will report repeated blinking, difficulty wearing contact lenses, blurred vision, or even excessive tearing. An ophthalmologist can diagnose dry eyes with simple tests. The Schirmer’s test measures the amount of tears produced in a period of 5 minutes, using a strip of filter paper placed inside the lower eyelid. With special non-toxic dyes, the ophthalmologist can look for abnormal staining in portions of the eye surface that have been devitalized as a result of excessive drying. The integrity of the tear film can also be assessed with these dyes.
The treatment of dry eyes involves the application of artificial tears, medicated drops, and tear gels at bedtime. Your ophthalmologist can block the tear ducts with removable plugs or with a simple surgical procedure. This prevents the flow of tears out of your eyes and can relieve their dryness. Fish oil supplements may also be of benefit.