Dry eyes are often diagnosed with a simple eye examination. The Schirmer Test, which measures tear production, may be used. In the Schirmer tear strip test, filtered paper strips are placed just inside the lower eyelid to measure the rate of tear production.
In some cases, temporary closure of the punctum may be performed to determine if eye discomfort is due to dry eyes. A tiny collagen implant, about the size of a grain of rice, is painlessly placed in the tear drainage canals. The implants permit only a small percentage of tears to pass into the nasal passages, thus building up a layer of tears on the surface of the eye. The implants are absorbed by the body in 3 to 5 days, giving the patient and doctor time to evaluate the effectiveness and comfort provided by an increase in the amount of tears on the surface of the eye.
Artificial tears are the most common treatment for dry eyes. Eye drops, which are available without a prescription, are used to lubricate the eyes and replace missing moisture. Slow release medicine inserted just inside the lower lid which gradually releases moisture during the day is also helpful. Difficulty opening the eyes in the morning may be treated with an ointment at bedtime.
Patients who suffer from dry eyes can also take steps to prevent the evaporation of tears. Using a humidifier to add moisture to the air and avoiding smoke, wind and other irritating conditions may provide relief.
If artificial tears alone fail to provide sufficient relief from dry eyes, soft contact lenses may be used to keep moisture on the surface of the eye. Soft contact lenses have a tendency to absorb water and other fluids and act as a bandage which protects the cornea. When used to treat dry eye, soft contact lenses trap artificial tears and medicine drops on the surface of the eye, thus providing needed moisture and lubrication.
In some cases, the punctum must be permanently narrowed or sealed to keep the tears from draining out of the eye quickly. The punctum may be blocked by the insertion of permanent punctum plugs. Unlike the dissolvable type used in testing, these plugs remain in place unless removed. The punctum can also be narrowed or blocked using surgical techniques or lasers. This procedure can usually be performed in the office and is painless, as a local anesthetic is administered before the treatment. Although it is possible to reopen the punctum once it has been closed, the need to do so is rare.
If you are suffering from dry eyes or other eye discomforts, you should obtain a complete eye examination.