By Desire Karakire
Angel has, for five years, used artificial tears. Despite having teary eyes, an eye specialist recommended artificial tears after diagnosing Angel with dry eye syndrome.
The condition, according to eye specialists, results from a tear deficiency, when the glands responsible for the production of tears no longer produce sufficient tears.
Purpose of natural tears
Much as many people try to chock back tears during emotional times, tears are actually helpful in cleaning the eyes, removing foreign particles and keeping the eyes moist.
Layers of tears
Tears are made up of three layers; the oily, watery and protein parts. The oily layer helps prevent evaporation of tears from the watery layer, which helps prevent friction between the eyelid and cornea. The protein layer contains enzymes that protect the eye against bacteria, while the watery layer helps dissolve oxygen as it enters the cornea.
Causes of tear deficiency
Dr.Edward Nkurunziza, a consultant ophthalmologist at Kampala Eye Consultants Clinic, says prolonged use of computers can cause dry eyes. “When one gazes for long at a computer without blinking, the tears evaporate more than usual,” he explains.
Dr. Agaba Ateenyi, the head of the ear, mouth and throat department at Mulago Hospital, says the commonest cause of dry eyes is age. With age, just as other organs of the body may start to depreciate, the tear glands wear out.
He adds that a hot climate causes the tear film to evaporate fast.
Acid burns can also result in dry eyes.
Agaba adds that the insufficiency of tears can also be triggered by medications, including some ARVs, septrin, medications with sulphur and penicillin, among others.
Prevalence, who is prone?
The elderly and women in menopause are prone to dry eye syndrome. Agaba and Nkurunziza say the prevalence of the condition is not known statistically, as no studies have been carried out to determine its extensiveness.
However, they both agree that they attend to several patients with the condition, regularly.
Symptom of dry eyes
Nkurunziza says, suffering from dry eyes does not necessarily mean that one’s eyes are dry. “One’s eyes might be flowing with tears, and when you tell them they have dry eyes, they might not understand you. However this is so because there is no lubrication from the oily layer of the tear film and the tears evaporate faster.”
The major symptoms include an uncomfortable smoky-sand burning sensation in the eyes, a sore feeling, failure to see objects that are far away, painful blinking, pain in the eyes and discomfort in opening the eyes.
Nkurunzinza says treatment of dry eyes is both preventive and curative. “Identifying the cause of the condition and steering clear of the causes is the best way to beat dry eyes,” he says.
He adds that working in an environment with fans is hazardous in the long-run. This is because fans emit dry air, which increases evaporation of the tear film. Instead, he recommends an air conditioner if one must cool the air.
Most importantly, he encourages proper eye hygiene, especially for people with conditions such as dandruff of the eyelashes. This can affect the tear glands if not well managed.
For curative treatment, he says, artificial tears in the form of eye drops may be applied as recommended by a doctor. One may also be given anti-biotics and steroids, depending on the cause of the condition.
In severe cases, plugging of the nasolacrimal duct, the channel that drains tears from the eyes to the nasal cavity, might be required. If the conjunctiva has been damaged by friction, conjunctiva maybe grafted from the less damaged eye.
Nkurunziza warns against self-medication and says one suffering from dry eyes should seek medical attention from an eye specialist and not just any doctor.
He says the duration of treatment can be short-term or long-term, depending on the patient’s flexibility to adhere to the treatment guidelines. In some severe cases, one might have to depend on artificial tears for the rest of his life.
If not treated properly or in time, Agaba says, dry eye syndrome puts the patient at a risk of several other eye diseases. This is because the enzyme that is meant to fight against bacteria in the eye is insufficient.
Also, the conjunctiva may be damaged due to the friction between the cornea and the eyelid.