A feeling of dry eyes can happen at any age. The older we get, the more likely dry eyes become. Tens of millions of Americans have some degree of dry eye symptoms, with nearly half being age 50 or older. Of those, more than three million are women. Dry eyes are a common source of discomfort. They can also be a symptom of a more serious problem that can lead to damage on the surface of the eye if left untreated.
Our eyes are naturally kept moist by a thin layer of tears which are necessary for good vision. These tears consist of three parts: an oily or lipid layer, a watery layer, and a mucus layer. The ratio between these parts is critical to maintaining the best consistency in our tears. Your eyes may feel dry if you are not producing enough tears, or if your tears are the wrong consistency and evaporate too quickly. A variety of other factors can contribute to the feeling that your eyes are dry:
• Inflammation – Swelling or irritation on the surface of the eye, the conjunctiva (covering over the white part of the eye), or the glands that produce tears may result in dry eyes.
• Consistency of Tears – Any disease that affects any of the three components of your tears may make your eyes feel dry.
• Medications – Dry eyes may be a side effect of some medications including antihistamines, decongestants, tranquilizers, some blood pressure medications, birth control pills, anti-depressants, and some Parkinson’s medications.
• Hormone Replacement – Women who are taking only estrogen are 70% more likely to have dry eyes, while women taking estrogen and progesterone are 30% more likely to have dry eyes than women not getting hormone replacements.
• LASIK – Refractive surgery such as LASIK may damage tear ducts and cause dry eyes. These symptoms usually resolve within 6 months after surgery.
• Allergies – Dry eyes may be associated with allergies, or may be caused by allergy treatments.