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What is Dry Eye Disease, and How is it Treated?

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Dry eye disease is a condition that occurs when the eyes are not adequately hydrated, leading to discomfort, irritation and even vision problems. Despite being a common ailment, many people do not understand the causes, symptoms and treatment options available for dry eye disease. In this blog, we will delve into what dry eye is, what causes the disease and what treatment options are offered by Eye Care Center of Colorado Springs. Whether you have experienced dry eye symptoms in the past or are simply looking for more information on this condition, this article will give you a comprehensive understanding of dry eye disease.

What Are Dry Eyes?

Dry eyes happen when your eyes don’t produce enough tears or when the tears evaporate too quickly. Tears are essential for maintaining eye health because they keep your eyes lubricated, nourished, and protected from infection.

A healthy tear film has 3 layers:

  • An oily outer layer that prevents tears from evaporating too quickly
  • A watery middle layer that moisturizes the eyes
  • A mucus inner layer that helps tears adhere to the eye’s surface

Each layer is important for keeping your eyes healthy and comfortable, and an imbalance with any of them can cause dry eyes.

What Causes Dry Eyes?

A lack of oil in the outer layer of your tear film, which is produced by the meibomian glands in your eyelids, is one of the most common causes of dry eyes.

These glands can become blocked or dysfunctional, resulting in reduced oil production and increased tear evaporation. This can also happen as a result of:

  • Aging
  • Hormonal changes
  • Certain medications
  • Environmental factors such as dry air, wind, and smoke
  • Medical conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren’s syndrome, and diabetes
  • Eye surgery, such as LASIK or cataract surgery
A woman in an optometrist's office looking into a machine that tests her vision.

How to Treat Dry Eyes

The treatment for dry eyes is determined by the underlying cause. Simply using over-the-counter artificial tears can help lubricate the eyes and reduce dryness in some cases. In more severe cases, your eye doctor may recommend prescription eye drops or other treatments.

Artificial Tears

Artificial tears, also known as over-the-counter eye drops, can help lubricate the eyes and relieve dryness. These drops work by replacing lost or insufficient tears in the eyes. 

Prescription Eye Drops

If over-the-counter artificial tears don’t relieve your symptoms, your eye doctor may prescribe medicated eye drops to treat underlying conditions like inflammation, infection, or allergies.

Some prescription eye drops reduce inflammation, while others boost tear production or decrease tear evaporation. When using eye drops, it’s important to adhere to your eye doctor’s instructions because they can have side effects when overused.

Some examples of prescription eye drops include:

Punctal Plugs

Punctal plugs are small silicone devices inserted into tear ducts to partially or completely block them. This keeps tears on the surface of the eyes for a longer period, preventing them from evaporating too quickly.

Punctal plugs are commonly used for moderate to severe dry eyes or when other treatments have failed.

Meibomian Gland Expression

Meibomian gland expression may be performed if the underlying cause of dry eyes is blocked or dysfunctional meibomian glands. This involves gently pressing the eyelids to release the oil from the glands, which can help lubricate your eyes.


BlephEx is a procedure that an eye doctor performs in-office to treat dry eyes caused by meibomian gland dysfunction or other eyelid conditions.

A handheld device is used during the procedure to gently clean the eyelids and lashes, removing debris and excess oil that can contribute to dry eyes.

Eyelid Hygiene

In addition to the treatments mentioned above, good eyelid hygiene can aid in the management of dry eye. Eyelids are crucial in protecting your eyes and ensuring proper tear production.

When debris, bacteria, and excess oil accumulate along the lash line and lid margins, they can alter your tear film, causing dryness and irritation.

You can maintain good eyelid hygiene by:

  • Cleaning your eyelids: Use a gentle, fragrance-free cleanser and warm water to clean your eyelids daily. You can use a clean washcloth or cotton swab to gently scrub the lid margin and lash line. Be sure to rinse thoroughly and avoid getting cleanser in your eyes.
  • Using warm compresses: Applying a warm compress to your closed eyes for a few minutes can help to stimulate oil production from the meibomian glands, which can improve tear quality and reduce dryness. You can use a warm, damp washcloth or a specialized eye mask designed for this purpose.
  • Keeping your hands clean: Avoid touching your face and wash your hands frequently.

Get Dry Eye Therapy

With various treatment options available, there’s no need to suffer through the discomfort of dry eye. If you have dry eyes, schedule an appointment with Eye Care Center of Colorado Springs to get eye care that can provide relief for your symptoms.

Written by Dr. Sara Johnson

Dr. Sara Whitney graduated with a B.S. in Biochemistry from Rockford College in Rockford, IL and received her Doctor of Optometry degree from Southern College of Optometry in Memphis, TN. As an optometry student, Dr. Whitney completed a primary care externship in Wilmington, NC, and a hospital-based rotation at the Naval Health Clinic of Corpus Christi in Corpus Christi, TX. Dr. Whitney has cared for patients as an optometrist in the Colorado Springs area since May of 2009. She has experience in family eye care, including pediatric eye examination, adult eye care, treatment and management of ocular disease, contact lens fitting, and eye surgery co-management. Colorado State licensed and certified in ocular pharmaceutical agents, Dr. Whitney’s training and experience allow her to diagnose, treat, and manage or co-manage all eye conditions. Professional memberships include the American Optometric Association, Colorado Optometric Association, and Southern Colorado Optometric Society.
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