Dry eye can make a person's eyes feel dry, red, or irritated. In addition to being uncomfortable, it can damage the eye's tissues and impair vision.
People usually begin experiencing dry eye symptoms as they age, but the condition can also result from eyelid or blinking problems, certain medications, environmental conditions, injury, and various health problems. The eyes may become dry and irritated because the tear ducts don't produce enough tears, or because the tears themselves have a chemical imbalance.
Dry eye is not preventable, but it can be controlled before harm is done to your eyes. Regular eye exams can detect dry eye early, even before symptoms become noticeable.
Non-surgical treatments include blinking exercises, increasing humidity at home or work, and the use of artificial tears, moisturizing ointment or Restasis®. If these methods fail, small plugs may be inserted in the corners of the eyes to slow tear drainage.
RESTASIS® Ophthalmic Emulsion is the only prescription eye drop available to treat chronic dry eye that is caused by low tear production. Made by Allergan, RESTASIS® drops increases tear production so that the eyes are better moisturized and less symptomatic. According to Allergan, patients who use RESTASIS® report a noticeable increase in tear production, as opposed to those using steroid drops or tear duct (punctal) plugs.
Punctal plugs can relieve dry eye symptoms when drops or ointments fail. Punctal plugs are placed in the opening of the tear ducts (called “puncta”) in the eyelids to block tear drainage and keep the eyes moist. Implantation should reduce the need for artificial tear drops and increase the patient’s overall comfort.
Punctal plugs come in a few different shapes and sizes, and may be placed in the lower or upper eyelid or both eyelids. The most common plugs are umbrella-shaped and made of silicone. They may be placed partially inside the tear duct or embedded entirely within the duct (Herrick plugs). A recently introduced acrylic plug called the SmartPLUG softens at body temperature and expands to custom-fit each patient’s eye.
Implantation takes only a few seconds in a professional’s office. In some cases, before implantation, collagen is temporarily placed in the eye to assess the effectiveness of punctal plugs.