Dr. Aggarwal of the Eye Clinic & Laser Institute discusses chronic dry eye syndrome and its treatments

How would you know if you have dry eyes? Do your eyes feel dry, itchy and gritty? Are your eyes burning and watery? Are your eyes sore and light sensitive? If you have some or all of these symptoms, then you may be suffering from a condition known as dry eye syndrome.

“Dry eye syndrome is caused when there is a disorder or imperfection in tear production,” explains Mukesh Aggarwal, M.D. of the Eye Clinic & Laser Institute, adding that there are many factors that play a role in the disorder.

For instance, as an individual ages, his or her tear production decreases. This is especially common in pregnant women or women going through menopause. Also, many daily medications, such as birth control pills, antihistamines, diuretics, pain medications, beta blockers and sleeping pills, can cause dry eyes. The disorder can also be brought on by diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and Sjogren’s syndrome. It can also occur when an individual is unable to retain his or her natural tear on the surface of the eye, and also when there are problems with the structure of the eye that does not allow it to close completely.

“The eye depends on the flow of tears to provide constant moisture and lubrication to maintain vision and comfort,” explains Dr. Aggarwal.

The doctor explains that tears are a combination of water for moisture, oils for lubrication, mucus for even spreading and antibodies and special proteins for resistance to infection.

“The eye has two types of tears,” says Dr. Aggarwal. “(These include) constant tears which are continuously formed to lubricate the eye, and reflex tears which are produced only in response to emotions, irritation or injury. These components are secreted by special glands located around the eye.”

When there is an inadequate flow of tears to the eye, dry eye syndrome prevails.

The condition is common and easily diagnosed, however. Dr. Aggarwal explains that an individual with dry eyes will experience a dry sensation, a gritty feeling, burning, stinging, itching and also excess tearing or watery eyes. A person may even have mucous discharge, irritation from wind and or smoke, redness, tired eyes, light sensitivity, soreness, or may have eyelids that get stuck together in the morning.

Although dry eye is a condition that cannot be cured, there are many treatment options available — one of those being the use of artificial tears.

“By using artificial tears, you can reproduce the tears that are produced around the eye. These artificial tears will replace the moisture that is missing, along with lubricating the eye,” explains Dr. Aggarwal. The downside to this treatment is that these drops only relieve dry eye symptoms temporarily. Another downside is that they can wash away the natural infection-fighting tear film.

“Another treatment alternative is punctal occlusion,” continues Dr. Aggarwal. “This is done by inserting a tiny plug (like a sink stopper) into the punctum or tear duct to prevent the drainage of tears. This allows you to retain your natural tear on the surface of your eye for longer periods of time.”

Punctal occlusion is something that can be done temporarily or long term. The temporary plugs are made of silicon, which the body can break down. This temporary plug is dissolved in about one week and will be washed away in an individual’s tears. The long-term plug is permanent but removable. It is made of a non-dissolvable material, like hydrogel, and plugs up the tear duct.  This procedure is completely painless and is over in just a few minutes.

One of the latest treatment options for dry eye syndrome (approved by the FDA in 2002) is the use of a prescription eye drop known as Restasis. This eye drop allows an individual to produce more of his or her own tears, and also decreases some of the inflammation that occurs as a result of the dry eye.

“It is important to keep in mind that once you have been diagnosed with dry eyes, it is a chronic condition so you will always have it,” says Dr. Aggaral. “Therefore, you will always need to be treated for it.”

Dr. Aggarwal graduated from the Institute of Medical Science and then served an internship at Philadelphia Hospital. He completed three years of Residency in Ophthalmology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. Dr. Aggarwal is a fellow of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, a fellow of the American Cosmetic Surgery and a member of the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery. He relocated to Merritt Island in 1980 and travels abroad to offer his services in charitable medical missions.

For more information, on the Eye Clinic & Laser Institute, call (321) 453-3937 or visit YourEyeClinic.com.