Tears are essential for maintaining the health of the front surface of the eye and for providing clear vision. Dry eye is a common condition in which a person doesn’t have enough quality tears to lubricate and nourish the eye.
With eye blink, tears spread across the front surface of the eye, known as the cornea. They provide lubrication, reduce the risk of eye infection, wash away foreign matter in the eye, and keep the surface of the eyes smooth and clear. Excess tears in the eyes flow into small drainage ducts in the inner corners of the eyelids, which drain into the back of the nose. Dry eyes can occur when tear production and drainage is not in balance.
The primary approaches used to manage and treat dry eyes include adding tears using artificial tear solutions, conserving tears, increasing tear production, and treating the inflammation of the eyelids or eye surface that contributes to the dry eyes.
- Adding tears. Mild cases of dry eyes can often be managed using artificial tear solutions. These can be used as often as needed to supplement natural tear production. Preservative-free artificial tear solutions are recommended because they contain fewer additives, which can further irritate the eyes.People with dry eyes that don’t respond to artificial tears alone will need to take additional steps to treat their dry eyes.
- Conserving tears. Keeping natural tears in the eyes longer can reduce the symptoms of dry eyes. This can be done by blocking the tear ducts through which the tears normally drain. The tear ducts can be blocked with tiny silicone or gel-like plugs that can be removed, if needed. Or a surgical procedure can permanently close the tear ducts.
- Increasing tear production. Your optometrist can prescribe eye drops that increase tear production. Taking an omega-3 fatty acid nutritional supplement may also help.
- Treating the contributing eyelid or ocular surface inflammation. Your optometrist might recommend prescription eye drops or ointments, warm compresses and lid massage, or eyelid cleaners to help decrease inflammation around the surface of the eyes.