Causes and Treatment of Dry Eyes
When you think of tears, it's usually about grief, sadness, or other strong emotions. The phrase
?Not a dry eye in the house? sums up our reaction to weddings, funerals and other life-changing
events. Movies that make us cry even have their own special name: weepies. But did you know that
the tears we weep when we?re feeling sad are different from the ones we shed when we chop an
onion? Or that, even though crocodiles can?t cry, there?s a real medical condition called
Crocodile Tear Syndrome?
Cheers for Tears
Human beings need to cry. Tears are a liquid that cleans, nourishes, lubricates and protects the
eyes. Without tears, the outer covering of the eye would be damaged due to dryness, and the cornea
would not receive the oxygen and nutrients it needs to function, nor would its waste products be
The three basic kinds of tears
Crocodile tears are not real tears (not even for crocodiles). Instead, the phrase means ?to pretend a sorrow that one doesn?t in fact feel, to create a hypocritical show of emotion,?
according to the Web site World Wide Words. The idea originated as far back as the 13th century
and stems from the mistaken belief that crocodiles wept while eating their prey.
- Basal tears maintain the health of the cornea by keeping it wet and free of dust. These tears are surprisingly complex, containing among other substances lipids, glucose, sodium,
potassium and an enzyme called lysozyme, also present in our saliva, which is crucial to eye
health. Some of these substances serve an immune function by protecting against bacterial
- Reflex tears are the body?s way of expelling foreign particles (dirt, dust) or other
irritants, such as onion vapors, tear gas or pepper spray. The reason onions are an irritant is
that they contain a compound that, when it encounters water in our tear ducts, creates sulfuric
acid! (Next time you?re cooking, try slicing the onion in the sink under running water.)
- Emotional tears, brought on by pain, stress or strong feelings, have a different chemical makeup than other tears. Emotional tears may be the body?s way of expelling excess hormones.
Crocodile Tear Syndrome, however, does exist. It is a rare outcome of recovery from Bell?s Palsy: faulty regeneration of the facial nerve responsible for the salivary and tear glands causes patients to cry while eating (even, perhaps, when eating crocodile).
How Dry I Am
People who suffer from a condition called keratitis sicca, or ?dry eye,? know how important tears
are. Dry eye sufferers endure stinging, itching, burning, blurry vision, or light sensitivity; the
condition also makes the eyes feel scratchy and gritty, as if there is a speck of dirt that won?t
go away. Ironically, this condition may actually cause the eyes to respond with reflex tears,
which do not help the problem, as they don?t contain the lubricating substances necessary to
alleviate the dryness.
One of the most common causes of dry eye is aging, due to a decrease in tear production as we get older. Other causes include a reaction to certain medications, including antihistamines, and
environmental factors such as wind, smoke, heating and air-conditioning. Contact lens wearers also
report an increase in dry eye, as do those who?ve undergone laser eye surgery (LASIK surgery) ? another compelling reason to follow the Rebuild Your Vision Program.
Treating Dry Eye
Dry eye condition can be treated with eye drops (artificial tears), a prescription drug called Restasis or plugs may be inserted into the tear ducts to block drainage. If the condition is left untreated,
eye damage and/or vision loss can occur. So the next time you have a ?good cry,? celebrate the
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Last post: Feb 1, 2011
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