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When to See a Doctor for Dry Eye

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Dry eyes can feel like a normal part of life but the burning sensation associated with them is a symptom of dry eye disease, a common condition affecting more than 16 million Americans. If you suffer from dry eye symptoms, how do you know when you should be making an appointment with your eye doctor? Before you rush in for an exam, determine when you should see a doctor for your dry eye. 

What is Dry Eye? 

Dry eye disease is a common condition where an issue within your tear film causes improper eye lubrication. 

Your tear film consists of three layers: oil, aqueous fluid, and mucin. Tears are dragged across your eyes to help keep them moist and protected, but when the tear film is affected, you can suffer from aggravating or painful symptoms. 

Dry Eye Symptoms

Dry eye symptoms may seem like everyday annoyances, but they can cause irritation and pain. Common dry eye signs include: 

  • Light sensitivity 
  • Red eyes
  • Blurred vision
  • Eye fatigue
  • A burning, scratching, or stinging sensation in your eyes 

There are several dry eye symptoms, and they’re related to the main causes of dry eye disease: decreased tear production and increased tear evaporation. 

Decreased Tear Production 

Tear glands have trouble working as effectively with age, and adults 65 and older have a greater risk of experiencing dry eye symptoms. This form of dry eye disease can also be referred to as aqueous-deficient dry eye. Age is not the only cause of inadequate tear production, and other dry eye contributors include: 

  • Medications
  • Medical conditions
  • Desensitized corneal nerves 

Decreased tear production is not as common, but it can result in similar discomfort and disruption of your quality of life. Increased tear evaporation is usually the cause of most people’s dry eye symptoms. 

Increased Tear Evaporation

Increased tear evaporation occurs when your tears are of poor quality. The oily layer of the tear film prevents evaporation when tears are dragged across the surface of the eye, and when this layer is affected, your eye can become irritated. This is referred to as evaporative dry eye disease

This oil, called meibum, can become plugged, clogged, or be of poor quality. When the glands releasing meibum become affected (known as meibomian gland dysfunction), your eyes may become dry and painful. Meibum can be affected by several other factors, and common causes of tear evaporation include: 

Because there are several potential causes for your dry eye symptoms, understanding these causes and symptoms is important. When experiencing these symptoms, how do you know when you should be visiting your optometrist? 

When Should You See a Doctor? 

If you’re suffering from red, burning eyes, it’s difficult to know if this is a serious concern or a one-time experience. When debating if you’re needing a trip to the optometrist, consider the following: 

If Your Symptoms Aren’t Going Away 

If you notice consistent dry eye symptoms, book an appointment with your optometrist. Sometimes when experiencing tired, irritated, and dry eyes, it can be caused by too much screen time or another external factor. Your symptoms will usually improve with rest or time and you’ll feel back to normal. 

If you experience symptoms consistently or on a daily basis, something is likely affecting you. Your optometrist can help diagnose the cause of your dry eyes. 

You Aren’t Sure What is Causing Your Dry Eyes

There can be several factors contributing to your dry eyes, but you should be able to have an idea of what is causing your symptoms. It can be hard to determine the cause of your dry eye signs without a medical professional. Identifying what is happening when your symptoms begin can help your diagnosis.

Try to recall your surroundings as best as possible when you experience dry eyes. If you’re unsure of the cause, an appointment with your optometrist can diagnose the underlying issue behind your dry eyes. 

At-Home Treatment is Not Effective

Home treatments are common when you first experience dry eye symptoms, and you may purchase over-the-counter eye drops to provide you with moisture. These drops may be helpful for a short time, but your symptoms may return. If your dry eyes return despite your efforts, contact your optometrist. 

Find the Cause of Your Dry Eye

It can be difficult to figure out what is causing your dry eyes alone and you may not know what steps to take next. Don’t worry, your optometrist is here to help. 

If you experience consistent dry eye symptoms or you’re not sure what is causing them, meet with your optometrist. They have the expertise to diagnose the underlying cause of your symptoms and recommend a treatment plan tailored for your specific needs.

Written by Dr. Daniel Evans

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