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Dry Eye Causes | Risk Factors Associated With Dry Eye

On a basic level, dry eye is caused by the eyes not getting enough tears or the quality of the tears being inadequate. The root cause of these issues can vary. Dry eyes become more common as we age and if certain health conditions are present. 

Oftentimes, adopting some simple lifestyle changes can eliminate or reduce dry eye. However, in some cases, dry eye can only be properly treated with the help of a doctor.

What Are the Main Causes of Dry Eye?

In a healthy eye, tears naturally lubricate and nourish the eye. If something interferes with the quality of a person’s tears or their ability to lubricate and nourish the eye, dry eye can occur. 

These are some of the most common causes of dry eye:

Inadequate Amount of Tears

The quality of a person’s tears can be largely irrelevant if the eye isn’t getting enough tears to begin with. Tears come from several tear glands around a person’s eyelids. Tear production can be affected by a variety of circumstances, including environmental conditions and certain medical conditions. Tear production also tends to lessen with age. 

Sometimes, an inadequate amount of tears is caused by lower than normal tear production. It can also be caused by tears evaporating more quickly than normal, as might occur in an especially hot, dry environment.

Poor Quality Tears

Tears are made of three important components. The first is oil, which helps to prevent the tears from evaporating. The second is water, which helps to hydrate the eye. The third is mucus, which helps the tears cover the eye’s surface evenly.

If any one of these components is affected, such as if a person has issues with their tear glands, the ability for their tears to properly nourish and lubricate the eye can be affected. Inadequate oil can cause tears to evaporate more quickly. Lower than normal water content may make the tears simply ineffective. 

Meanwhile, lower mucus content affects a tear’s ability to spread evenly over the cornea. This can lead to patches of the eye not getting enough tears spread over them even if other areas receive proper nourishment. 

Faster Than Normal Tear Drainage

In some cases, a person’s tears may be drained too quickly from their eyes. This can often be solved through something called punctal plugs. These are put into the tear ducts and slow the rate at which the ducts drain tears, keeping those tears in the eye. 

A less common issue that can cause dry eye and may require surgery to correct are loose eyelids. If a person’s eyelids are unusually loose, tears can drain too quickly out of the eye.

Dry Eye Risk Factors

There are several risk factors associated with dry eye, although it should be noted that anyone can develop dry eye. 

Age

Age is a very common risk factor, as tear production naturally diminishes with age. This can eventually mean the eyes don’t produce enough tears to fully support their needs. 

Sex

Dry eye is more common among women than men. This is because of hormonal changes caused by pregnancy, the use of some contraceptives, and menopause.

Contacts

Contact lenses can increase a person’s risk of dry eye. If you wear contacts and have persistent dry eye, your eye doctor may recommend you switch to glasses for a while

Health Conditions

Certain health conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, and thyroid problems, may trigger or worsen dry eye. 

Laser Surgeries 

Eye surgeries such as LASIK can make a person more likely to develop dry eye, as these surgeries can decrease tear production.

Nutrition

A lack of the right nutrients can worsen a person’s eye health and increase their risk of dry eye. Vitamin A, which can be found in foods like broccoli and liver, as well as omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in some nuts and fish, are both important to your eye health. 

Taking these things in excess isn’t going to help if you’re already getting enough of them. In fact, excessive vitamin A can be harmful.

Environmental Factors

Outside factors, like the environment, are also important to consider. Dry climates and conditions that add more particulates into the air, such as windy or smoky areas, can increase how fast tears evaporate. This means people who work or otherwise spend time in these environments should be mindful of how these conditions may affect their eyes. They should take precautionary steps to reduce their risk of dry eye. 

Spending a long time not blinking, as can sometimes occur when people are working on the computer, can also lead to dry eyes. 

Preventing Dry Eye

Dry eye is often preventable. Even if it isn’t, its severity can usually be lessened by taking proper precautions. 

Here are some ways you can prevent and lessen dry eye:

Diet & Hydration

A healthy lifestyle is one of the best ways to prevent dry eye. Eat a full, nutritious diet, and try to drink at least 8 to 10 glasses of water every day. This can help to keep your eyes properly nourished and lubricated. 

Rest

Aim to get solid sleep every night. If you’re tired, your eyes are more likely to feel dry and fatigued.

Protect Your Eyes

Make sure to protect your eyes if you are regularly in conditions that can dry out your eyes

When outside, wear wraparound sunglasses, as these can protect your eyes at all angles. 

If you work or live in especially dusty areas or where chemical or metal particulates may get in the air, you may even want to wear goggles to fully guard your eyes.

Use Artificial Tears

Over-the-counter eye drops and artificial tears can lubricate your eyes. Some gels and ointments are also sold to help make your eyes feel less irritated. 

See a Doctor

If you routinely get dry eyes despite implementing the above tips, talk to an eye doctor. They may be able to prescribe a prescription option that can help with your tear production and diagnose the underlying cause of your dry eye. 

References

Dry Eye. American Optometric Association.

Dry Eye. (April 2022). National Eye Institute.

Vitamin A and Carotenoids. (August 2022). National Institutes of Health.

Dry Eye Syndrome. (July 2011). Journal of Ophthalmic & Vision Research.

Dry Eye Disease: Identification and Therapeutic Strategies for Primary Care Clinicians and Clinical Specialists. (December 2022). Annals of Medicine.

Defining Dry Eye from a Clinical Perspective. (December 2020). International Journal of Molecular Sciences

Disease: Diagnosis, Medical Management, Recent Developments, and Future Challenges. (January 2015). Advances in Pharmaceutics.
Dry Eye Disease Prevalence, Assessment, and Management. (March/April 2018). Home Healthcare Now.

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