Keratoconjunctivitis sicca, or "dry eye syndrome" is a very common issue across the globe, with over 25 million people suffering symptoms in the United States alone. The problem occurs when there is an issue with the ocular surface of the eye, or with the tear film that works to keep the eye lubricated and moist.
Those that suffer from dry eye syndrome experience significant discomfort with symptoms such as burning or stinging, difficulty seeing, and problems concentrating. Dry eyes can happen for a variety of reasons, and can be a side effect of various conditions. The prevalence of this problem is on the rise, with 7.5% of men aged up to 80, and 10% of women in the same group suffering from dry eye complaints.
Today, an annual $3.8 billion is spent on forms of dry-eye relief throughout the U.S., and clinical experts admit that dry eye syndrome is the most frequently encountered eye concern. So how can it be diagnosed, and treated as effectively as possible?
Diagnosing Dry Eye Syndrome
Unfortunately, despite the fact that dry eye is a common issue throughout the world, the available methods for diagnosis are far from ideal. Though most eye-care practitioners are familiar with conventional solutions such as break-up time and Schirmer's test, diagnosis is challenging for a range for reasons.
The symptoms of dry eye syndrome are the first problem to consider — as many patients experience issues differently. Because the symptoms are subjective, they do not always correlate with disease severity, making an accurate diagnosis more difficult. What's more, because there is no universal consensus available for such a diagnosis, a generally agreed-upon set of factors does not exist.
In spite of this, there are some tests and procedures that can help professionals determine the cause of dry eye symptoms. For example:
- Comprehensive eye examinations: An exam that allows an eye-care professional to examine the full history of eye health can help a doctor to understand why patients may be suffering from dry eye problems.
- Measuring the volume of tears: doctors may use the Shcrimer test to measure tear production. In this procedure, professionals place blotting strips beneath lower eyelids, and after five minutes a doctor measures how much of the strip is soaked with moisture.
- Determining tear quality: Other tests may include the measurement of tear break-up time, and quantification of tear components with the use of special dyes that help doctors assess the condition of the patient’s eyes.
Why Is Dry Eye Syndrome So Common?
There are two different forms of dry eye syndrome. The first is "aqueous tear-deficient" — a disorder wherein lacrimal glands in the eye cannot produce enough moisture to maintain the eye surface. The second is an evaporative condition, caused by the inflammation of Meibomian glands.
In both circumstances, suffering from dry eye means that your eyes cannot eliminate irritants such as dust — which can lead to burning, stinging, and pain or redness in your eyes. The causes of dry eye syndrome are extensive, from aging, to certain medications, illnesses, and even a low blink rate. The numerous factors that can contribute to dry eye is what makes it such a common condition, and our use of modern technology may also help to aggravate the symptoms. For instance, excessive working on a computer, just like spending hours in a dry environment, could irritate your condition.
How Are Dry Eyes Treated?
As mentioned previously, because diagnosing dry eye can be complicated, finding the ideal treatment first time can also be a complex challenge. Unfortunately, many patients must try a number of approaches to managing the symptoms before they find something that works perfectly for them. Sometimes, the first solution that you try may irritate your eyes even more than the underlying condition, making the search for a treatment somewhat frustrating.
Some of the most common treatment options include:
- Artificial tears: drops and gels that can help to add moisture to the eye surface and relieve symptoms. These can be bought at pharmacies or obtained through prescription, and the frequency with which they need to be used will depend on the severity of the dry eye condition.
- Eye ointments: some patients find that applying a lubricating and soothing ointment to their eyes before they go to bed helps to ensure that they feel fresh and free from particularly debilitating symptoms in the morning. Usually, patients shouldn't use this ointment through the day, as it can blur vision.
- Surgery may help prevent the tears from draining away, or surgeons can insert special plugs into the lacrimal ducts.
- Anti-inflammatory medications such as tetracycline tablets or steroid eye drops can be useful, as well as medicines that boost tear production.
If your patients suffer from dry eye syndrome, how do you manage their condition, and how difficult did you find it to find the right diagnosis? Let us know your story in the comments below.