What is Dry Eye Disease?

Dry Eye Disease is a general term used for a multitude of problems on the surface of the eye.

The main contributor of dry eye disease is bacteria build up that begins from the day we are born. Over time that bacteria build-up leads to a severe cascade of events that leads to that dry eye or ocular surface disease that leads to symptoms such as:

- burning sensation

-foreign body sensation

- grittiness or sand-like feeling

- dry eyes - watery eyes

- light sensitivity

- blurry vision

-and more!

The cascade begins with bacteria build-up that develops into something called Blepharitis. Blepharitis is an inflammation of the eyelids. This inflammation of the eyelids over time begins to lead to more problems such as Demodex, also known as eyelash mites. These eyelash mites are very difficult to get rid of without professional medical intervention.

Once bacteria is introduced to the eye’s surface we begin to see changes in the tear film which is what leads to the dry eye symptoms and more severe types of dry eye.

Our tear film is a delicate balance of 3 layers:

-Oil Layer

-Mucin Layer

-Aqueous Layer

When any one of those layers is out of balance, we begin to notice those dry eye symptoms mentioned above.

Getting the tear film back into that delicate balance takes patience and finding the right treatment plan.

Another common part of the cascade is Meibomian Gland Dysfunction. This is when the inflammation of the eyelids and bacteria build-up begins to clog the pores that produce the oils essential to lubricating our eyes. They can either become clogged to the point where they do not express oil anymore and instead produce a thick, white pus or they can begin to change shape and die. If the gland becomes clogged it can become a stye and if the glands die, there is no way to bring them back. This will lead to constantly red eyes and irritation as well as extremely dry eyes. Unfortunately this leads to the need for long-term rigorous management as there is no true way to treat dry eye at this stage.

Some of the more severe subsequent problems we see in dry eye disease are keratitis, neurotrophic keratitis, ulceration and perforation, and corneal scarring. This may result in needing severe treatment options such as hourly lubrication with drops, ointments, sleeping goggles, expensive medications, bandage contact lenses, and more. Not only is this a bothersome treatment option, but a costly one as well.

This is why beginning eyelid hygiene and getting a regular eye exam is important in preventing this disease from advancing to the point of no return. Follow the link to our blog post: How to Clean Your Eyelids to learn more about this preventative measure.

Next up: Medications and Systemic Conditions That Cause Dry Eye