How do you know if you have dry eyes? If they feel dry then that is a bit of a giveaway but funnily enough for many people with dry eyes that is not their primary complaint.
The most common symptoms of dry eyes are that the eyes feel like they’re burning and gritty, even to the point of thinking that there is a foreign body in the eye. They can also look red and sore. Often there is a feeling of having to blink to try and “clear the eyes”. Indeed one of the other main symptoms is for there to be intermittent blurry vision. The reason for this is that the surface of the eye (the cornea) has to be optically clear to have clear vision. If the surface of the cornea is dry then the tears often don’t spread evenly across the surface leaving areas that are “smudgy”. In other words when you blink it’s like having the windscreen wipers on when there is no water on the windscreen.
For some people, there is just a general feeling of the eyes feeling a bit irritated. One of our clients just thought that when she got home at the end of the day her eyes were uncomfortable because of the dog! After a series of IPL treatments those symptoms disappeared and the dog was back in favour again.
Sometimes the first indication of dry eye disease is the loss of tolerance to wearing contact lenses. Some people have been happily wearing contact lenses for years then they find that they’re getting more and more uncomfortable. The lenses have to be removed earlier and earlier in the day until it gets to the point that it’s barely worth putting them in.
Ironically when eyes are very watery that too can be a sign of dry eyes. This can be the case when the main feature is a lack of oil in the tears (meibomian gland dysfunction). When there is only a small amount of oil on the surface of the tears there is more chance of the tears that are there evaporating away. This can result in surface damage to the cornea which feels like a foreign body sensation. The body’s response to this is to flush away the “foreign body” by producing copious amounts of watery tears from the lacrimal glands. The down side to this is that this can then rinse away what small amount of oil there is in the tears making the eye even drier. Everyone has experienced this effect after crying emotional tears when the eyes end up being red, irritated and sore.
So, there are a number of different symptoms of dry eye and all of them can be due to something other than dry eye. The key is clearly to have a dry eye assessment.