When your eyes are too dry, and the tear film breaks up, it is time for intensive treatment tailored to the needs of dry eyes. Defective lubrication of the eyes is not only unpleasant but also increases the risk of inflammation of the cornea and/or the conjunctiva and, if untreated, can lead to serious consequential damage. What can you do, then, if you have dry eyes? In many cases, it is advisable to treat them with lubricating eye drops or eye ointment.
Dry eyes caused by a defective tear film
The natural tear film covers our eyes and protects them from germs and drying out. It comprises three layers; a mucin layer (slimy layer) on the inside, a middle, watery layer as well as a stabilising, oily layer. If the middle, watery layer contains too little fluid or the outer layer insufficient oil, the film can break up and therefore no longer completely execute its function. Itching and burning develop as well as reddening of the eye or swelling – typical symptoms of dry eyes, which are also known as sicca syndrome.
Diagnosis by means of different techniques
An eye doctor should be consulted if there is a suspicion of dry eyes based on the symptoms. With the aid of different tests, they can provide a diagnosis, exclude other causes of the eye problems and recommend appropriate treatment where necessary. As part of the diagnosis, the rupture time of the tear film is often determined. This entails colouring the lacrimal fluid in the eye with a dye. The doctor observes how long it takes until the tear film shows its first cracks after a blink. The shorter the rupture time, the worse the lubrication is and the drier the eye. Schirmer’s test, as it is called, for determining the amount of tear secretion or the staining of dead corneal cells can also help with the diagnosis.
What should you do if you have dry eyes? Treatment with eye drops and ointments
Normally, the recommended treatment for dry eyes is eye drops for the day and eye ointments at night time. In the process, different products perform different tasks:
If the middle, watery layer of the tear film is too thin – that is, if there is insufficient volume of tears – then eye lubricants such as eye drops are recommended. They supplement the amount of fluid which is available for lubricating the eyes and so facilitate the formation of a suitably thick tear film. Hyaluronan is particularly good for lubricating the eyes. It binds a lot of moisture and forms an even, very adherent film on the surface of the eye.
If, on the other hand, the stabilising oily layer of the tear film is defective, it is advisable to use eye drops which also support this outer oily layer. That is because this outer layer provides the tear film with stability and protects the eyes against evaporation of the watery layer of the tear film. Alongside special eye drops, it is also recommended to use oily eye ointments, which are applied before going to sleep and support the regeneration of the surface of the eye during the night.
Because the eyes produce significantly less lacrimal fluid at night than during the day, it is generally advisable to use eye ointments for problems with dry eyes. These are exceptionally well-suited to protect the eyes from drying out during sleep.