Causes of Dry Eye
Dry Eye Syndrome can be caused by any number of factors, including environmental issues, certain types of medications and preexisting medical conditions. Two of the more common causes of dry eye are aging and hormonal changes; indeed, women entering menopause are the most common group of dry eye sufferers. Because dry eye can be confused with allergies and other eye conditions, it’s best to get a proper diagnosis. If you think you may have dry eye, talk to your eye professional.
Dry eye actually describes a number of different diseases and conditions that result in dry spots due to inadequate moisture on the surface of the eye. This can make diagnosing the cause of a particular case of dry eye somewhat difficult.
Additionally, dry eye can easily be mistaken for other conditions, including eye infections and allergies. In order to properly diagnose your problem and develop a proper treatment plan, it’s best to see your eye care professional.
Some common causes of dry eye include:
- Hormonal changes, including menopause
- Environmental factors
- Autoimmune diseases, including Sjögren’s Syndrome
- Certain types of medications
- Contact lens wear
- LASIK and other refractive surgeries
- Reduced blinking
- Other health conditions
Often, a variety of causes can combine to contribute to dry eye.
As you grow older, your body goes through changes; so do the contents of your tears. Often, your eyes begin to produce tears with less natural oil in them. The oil (or lipids) in your tears helps keep them from evaporating too quickly. Fewer lipids can cause an imbalance in tears, leading to dry eye.
Hormonal changes, including menopause
Hormones help stimulate the production of tears. As a result, changes in hormone levels may decrease natural tear production. Although pregnancy and menstruation have both been known to affect tear production, it’s particularly true when entering menopause, which may help explain why older women are often more susceptible to developing dry eye.
A lack of humidity and increased temperatures can cause your tears to evaporate more quickly than you are able to replace them. As a result, hot, dry climates and dry indoor air conditioning can both contribute to dry eye.
Sun, wind, dust, smoke and high altitudes can all affect dryness as well.
Autoimmune diseases, including Sjögren’s Syndrome
There are more than 80 types of autoimmune diseases, including underactive or overactive thyroid, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis (MS) and Sjögren’s Syndrome. Many of these conditions can affect the cells and glands necessary for tear production. Sjögren’s Syndrome in particular causes inflammation in the tear-producing lacrimal gland in the eye, decreasing the output of aqueous for tear film.
A number of medications are thought to be causes of dry eye, including:
- Over-the-counter antihistamines
- Nasal decongestants
- Oral contraceptives
If you believe you are experiencing dry eye, make sure to tell your eye professional about any medications you are taking.
Contact lens wear
Contact lenses, floating on the tear film that covers the cornea, absorb a good deal of the tears in your eye. This can contribute to dry eye, especially when combined with other factors, like aging or a dry environment.
If you wear contacts and think you may be experiencing dry eye, talk to your eye professional. Advances in “breathable” lens materials and comfort-enhancing contact lens solutions may help to improve the symptoms.
LASIK and other refractive surgeries
Some people who have had LASIK or other refractive surgeries find that they experience dry eye in the weeks after surgery. Luckily, symptoms usually clear up after a few months.
When you blink, your eyes are coated with a fresh layer of tears. Normally, you blink somewhere around 5 to 6 times a minute. However, when you are engrossed in an activity that requires visual focus – reading, writing, driving, using a computer, watching TV, etc. – you tend to blink less frequently, sometimes as little as once per minute. As a result, your tears tend to evaporate without being replaced, which can lead to dry eye.
Other health conditions
In some cases, dry eye may be the result of other eye or skin conditions, including rosacea, conjunctivitis (pink eye), shingles, vitamin A deficiency, or blepharitis (inflammation of the eyelids). Previous trauma to the eyes or face, including burns and radiation, can also contribute to dry eye.