Dry eye is a chronic condition that affects millions of people around the world, including about 7 percent of men and women in the U.S. The most common symptoms of dry eye are scratchiness and burning sensations in the eyes, blurry vision, and intermittent periods of excessive tearing. Without proper treatment, dry eyes can progressively become worse. In some cases, the lack of adequate quality tear film can even result in painful corneal ulcers, which in turn can lead to dangerous eye infections.
What causes dry eyes?
Dry eyes can occur for two primary reasons: the eye does not produce enough tears or enough of the components that comprise tears or the eye does not distribute enough tears across the eye surface.
That second cause of dry eye – poor distribution of tears – often occurs as a result of long hours spent staring at a computer screen or performing other work that requires close focus and which can interfere with how often we blink. Blinking is important for distributing the tear film across the surface of the eye, and when we don’t blink enough, the eyes can become dry.
The other primary cause of dry eye – inadequate production of tear film and its components – has other causes that can prove much more difficult to address.
Oil Glands and Tear Film
Tears are comprised of water, mucus, and oil, and it’s the oil component that helps the eyes stay moist. Oil is produced by the meibomian glands located along the rim of the lids. When these glands become infected, inflamed or plugged, oil production can decline significantly and even entirely stop.
Interestingly, the two primary causes of dry eye can also be interrelated. When we don’t blink enough, the eye sends signals that it’s becoming overly dry. That causes the meibomian glands to ramp up their production of oil and to produce thicker oil, which in turn can cause the glands to become blocked. As a result, less oil reaches the eye surface and the cycle continues.
Meibomian gland dysfunction is common, affecting as many as 86 percent of people with dry eyes, and until now, the only way to effectively treat gland-related issues was with frequent applications of hot compresses – multiple times each day – combined with frequent cleansing of the the lid rims to prevent a buildup of debris that can block glands.
Unfortunately, these approaches tend to be largely ineffective for most patients, even when a rigorous schedule is maintained. That’s because these techniques are applied to the outer surfaces of the lids, and to “unblock” glands and promote increased oil production, glands need to be stimulated from the inside as well.
LipiFlow and Dry Eyes
Recently, the FDA approved a new treatment called LipiFlow, designed to treat chronic dry eyes by restoring the function of meibomian glands with a special device that provides warm, gentle massage to the outside and inside of lids. The entire treatment takes about 15 minutes, and clinical studies have shown using LipiFlow can be extremely effective in providing relief from chronic dry eye by addressing the root cause of the problem – meibomian gland dysfunction – instead of simply treating the symptoms with lubricating eye drops.
LipiFlow can be an effective treatment for the 86 percent of men and women whose dry eyes are related to gland dysfunction, but it’s not an ideal solution for every patient with dry eyes.
At Florida Eye Specialists, we have a dedicated Dry Eye Center, where our skilled team diagnoses and treats chronic dry eyes. If you’ve been diagnosed with dry eye syndrome, or if you have symptoms that could indicate you have dry eyes, call Florida Eye Specialists at 904-328-6218 and schedule a consultation appointment at one of our five Jacksonville-area locations to enjoy better vision and to help your eyes stay as healthy as possible.