Answers by Mitchell Gossman, MD, an ophthalmologist at Eye Associates of Central Minnesota, located in St. Cloud
How do I know if I have dry eyes?
First, some background information. The eyes are bathed by tears constantly, but did you know that there are two systems for the body to deliver tears to your eyes? The most important system is the “accessory lacrimal glands.” There are many of them in the eyelids, and their purpose is to deliver tears continually, all day and all night. The surface of the eye requires moisture to provide oxygen and nutrients to the outer layers of the cornea, to maintain comfort, to lubricate the passage of the eyelids over the eye when you blink, and to provide a glassy smooth surface that focuses light properly so you see clearly.
The other system for providing tears is the “main lacrimal gland.” This is a gland in the upper-outer eyelid region, and its purpose is to deliver a gush of tears when there is irritation, such as might be produced by a foreign body in the eye. If you’ve had one of these, you know how uncomfortable it is, and the eye responds to the irritation by sending out a large amount of tears trying to flush the foreign body out.
Some of the symptoms you might have if you have dry eyes are:
1. Your eyes feel dry. This is obvious, your eyes simply feel “dry,” your eyelid may feel like sandpaper when you blink.
5. Pain is an unusual symptom, but may occur in severe cases.
6. Constant blurred vision.
7. Fluctuating blurred vision. A classic situation is, you are reading a book, phone, or computer, and you notice intermittent blurred vision. You may blink a few times and get a few moments of clear vision you wish you could maintain, but it becomes blurry again. This is caused by the dryness causing an irregular surface which doesn’t focus light properly, and you experience blurred vision.
8. When dry eyes occur, your eyes may think there’s a foreign body in the eye, and cause the main lacrimal gland to send forth a gush of tears. So, ironically, dry eyes can cause intermittent excessive tearing.
Why are dry eyes worse in the winter?
1. Lower humidity promotes rapid evaporation of your tears into the air.
2. Forced air home heat is notoriously dry, and in a car the blower forces air over your eyes and increases tear evaporation.
3. We tend to spend more time indoors where the humidity is the lowest, and we Minnesotans probably tend to do more reading in the winter which, because of the decreased blinking during reading, increases tear evaporation even further.
There are many treatments for dry eyes, but one of the first to try would be to put in artificial tears when symptoms occur. Or, even better, when you’re in a situation where you know there’ll be trouble, such as reading, put them in before you get the dry eye symptoms. If you require tears more often than four times a day you may want to see your eye doctor to consider other treatments.
Find out more
Mitchell Gossman, MD., and Andrea Joplin, MD., are ophthalmologists at Eye Associates of Central Minnesota in St. Cloud, and see patients from all over Central Minnesota and the St. Cloud area. They accept new patients, and appointments may be made at 320-774-3789.
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