Dry eye syndrome is a condition where your eyes either produce low-quality tears or don’t produce enough tears to keep your eyes hydrated. Sometimes the meibomian glands inside your eyelid, which produce the oily layer of your tears, don’t function properly or are blocked, causing your tears to dry out. Environmental factors, some medical conditions and certain medications can also cause dry eye syndrome.
Tears are essential for maintaining eye health and comfort. They moisten your eyes and remove debris. In severe cases, untreated dry eye syndrome can actually damage your cornea and cause vision loss.
The amount of dryness varies in severity from person to person. If you have a minor case of dry eye, you may be able to manage it with over-the-counter eye drops. However, if the problem persists or appears to be getting worse, it's time to visit your [eye-doctor], who will assess your eyes, find the underlying problem and begin treatment.
Here are some of the complications that can occur when chronic dry eye syndrome isn’t treated:
Conjunctivitis is the infection or inflammation of the conjunctiva — the clear layer of cells that covers the white part of your eyeball and the inner surface of your eyelids. Symptoms include grittiness, redness and sensitivity to light.
Keratitis is the inflammation of the cornea. It can be caused by different types of infections, abnormalities of the eyelids, injury, and dry eye. If the deeper layers of the cornea are involved it can lead to scarring or a corneal ulcer, if left untreated.
A corneal ulcer is an open sore that develops on the cornea, the clear, protective outer layer of your eyes.
While corneal ulcers typically occur after an injury, they can also be caused by severe dry eye.
Debris like dirt and sand particles can enter your eyes and scratch the surface of the cornea. When your tear glands don’t produce enough tears to wash away the particles, bacteria can infect the scratch and cause an ulcer.
Luckily, corneal ulcers are treatable with antibiotic eye drops. But unless they are treated, these ulcers can spread and scar the eyeball, causing partial or complete blindness.
Inability to wear contact lenses
Unless your eyes produce enough good-quality tears, your contact lenses can become overly dry, leading to a gritty sensation, irritation and redness.
Without sufficient moisture, your contacts may stick to your eyeball, making it difficult to remove them. Chronic dry eye syndrome may prevent you from wearing standard contact lenses.
However, there are certain specialized contact lenses that can help lubricate your eyes.
Difficulty keeping your eyes open
Depending on the severity of dry eye, it may be difficult to keep your eyes open. This can occur if dry eye syndrome leads to extreme light sensitivity or the sensation that something is in your eye.
While artificial tears may provide enough moisture to partially open your eyes, you may still feel the need to squint, especially when exposed to a computer screen or sunlight.
Difficulty reading or driving
While blurry vision can be a sign that you need a stronger prescription for your glasses or contacts, it is also a symptom of chronic dry eye syndrome.
If left untreated, blurriness may gradually worsen, or you may develop double vision.
If so, you may have trouble driving and reading. Sometimes, with blurry vision, it’s difficult or even impossible to work.
While more research is needed, there may be a connection between headaches and dry eye. A population-based case study of more than 72,000 patients published by JAMA Ophthalmology (2019) found that people who suffer from migraine headaches are more likely to have dry eyes compared to the general population.
It’s not clear why. Being female and of an advanced age “play an important role in determining the strength of this association,” the researchers said.
A 2015 study, published in the journal Cornea evaluated the connection between dry eye disease and depressive symptoms in more than 6,000 women. Researchers found that women diagnosed with dry eye had a higher likelihood of developing depressive moods, anxiety, and psychological stress.
While the connection isn’t fully understood, researchers noted that some medications for treating depression have a drying effect on the eyes, and that dry eye syndrome may limit a person’s participation in activities, to the point where they may become anxious, withdrawn and depressed.
If left untreated, chronic dry eye can lead to complications. The first step in determining the cause of your symptoms and how to treat them is a visit with your eye doctor.
Schedule an appointment with Belill Eye Care, PLC to help find the right treatment options for you, to increase the quality of your tears and improve the quality of your life.
Belill Eye Care, PLC serves patients from Clio, Flint, Flushing, and Mt. Morris, all throughout Michigan.
- A: If you experience itchiness, light sensitivity, tearing and tired eyes it could be a sign that you have dry eye syndrome. If you experience these symptoms regularly, get your eyes checked out by an eye doctor, who can officially diagnose your symptoms and offer treatment.
- A: Various things can cause dry, itchy eyes. Some of the most common causes include blocked glands, sensitivity to the environment (wind, air pollution), infrequent blinking, certain medications, contact lenses and demodex mites.