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Dry Eye Q & A

Having dry eyes is an uncomfortable symptom that often occurs with age.

With millions of cases in the United States each year, it’s a common condition that you can often resolve with treatment targeting discomfort. Visit general and medical optometrist Dr. Mary Espy in Flint, Michigan, to find out if your condition warrants a prescription or medical procedure. You can call or use the online booking form to request an appointment.

What are dry eyes?

Your eyes are naturally filled with tears for lubrication to keep them functioning comfortably. Tears are made of:

  • Water for moisture
  • Oils for lubrication
  • Mucus for even spreading
  • Antibodies and other special proteins to help fight infections

Each blink of the eyelids serves to lubricate the cornea and keep your eyes comfortable and healthy.

When tears are limited, you might experience uncomfortable dry eyes. This is due to an inadequate amount of tears or poor quality of tears, which often occur with age or menopause. Coexisting symptoms tend to include burning, gritty, and tired eyes.

What are signs and symptoms of dry eyes?

You may have dry eyes if you experience these symptoms:

  • Feeling like there’s something in your eye
  • Itching
  • Redness
  • Blurry vision
  • Light sensitivity

In some cases, dry eyes may even cause watery eyes due to reflex tearing.

What causes dry eyes?

Several factors can cause dry eyes, including its main risk factors of age and gender. Other causes include:

  • Decreased tear production
  • Increased tear evaporation
  • An imbalance in tear composition

Sometimes environmental factors, like air conditioning or exposure to smoke, can physically dry out your eyes as well. Specific bodily causes include:

  • The natural aging process (menopause, in particular)
  • Side effects of certain drugs (commonly seen with antihistamines)
  • Certain diseases that affect your body’s ability to produce tears
  • Certain problems that keep your eyelids from shutting the way they should

What are risk factors for dry eyes?

Certain factors may increase your risk of being affected with dry eyes, including:

  • Age: Being older than 50
  • Gender: Being female
  • Diet: Having a vitamin A-deficient diet or low omega-3 levels
  • Wearing contact lenses
  • Medical conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, or thyroid problems

How are dry eyes diagnosed and treated?

A comprehensive eye exam can generate an official diagnosis of dry eyes. Dr. Espy assesses your:

  • Medical history
  • External structure and dynamics of the eye
  • Eyelids and cornea using bright light and magnification

Treatments for dry eyes serve to provide comfort and relief. Common approaches include:

  • Adding tears by using over-the-counter artificial tear solutions
  • Conserving tears
  • Increasing the production of tears with prescription eye drops
  • Treating eyelid inflammation

In cases where over-the-counter treatments aren’t effective, see Dr. Espy for stronger prescription medications or medical procedures.

Under what conditions should I seek medical attention?

If symptoms persist after using over-the-counter eye drops or ointment, you may need to visit Dr. Mary Espy for a diagnosis. Extensive symptoms of red, irritated, tired, or burning eyes may need stronger treatment or a different diagnosis.