Education & Resources

Know the Signs of Ocular Surface Disease

Jaclyn Munson
April 1, 2021
OSDBlogHeader - Know the Signs of Ocular Surface Disease - Fort Collins Family Eye Care

Dry, itchy, watery eyes are really common. In fact, 86% of people experience the symptoms of dry eye disease. When you know what to look out for, you can promptly receive treatment. However, the signs of dry eye disease can indicate something more complicated than just dry, irritated eyes. Don’t settle for living with the signs of dry eyes and risk the clarity and comfort of your vision. 

What is Dry Eye Disease?

Dry eye disease, or ocular surface disease, is a condition caused by inadequate or low quality tear production. Your tears lubricate and nourish the eye surface and cornea. However, when your tears fail to provide your eye with adequate lubrication, you can experience irritation and damage of the ocular surface. Ocular surface diseases are chronic and progressive, meaning prevention and early intervention is a necessity to protect your vision!  

What is the Ocular Surface?

The ocular surface is the delicate structure that covers the eye and protects it from the environment. Your ocular surface is made up of: 

  • Your cornea
  • Your tear film 
  • Your conjunctiva, the mucous membrane that covers your eye

There are also other eye structures that are functionally responsible for supporting your ocular surface, namely, your meibomian glands. Your meibomian glands are essential in the proper function of your tear film since they are responsible for creating the oil that prevents the aqueous layer of your tear film from evaporating. 

Types of Ocular Surface Disease

Ocular surface diseases are chronic and progressive. The types of ocular surface disease are: 

  • Biofilm – Abnormalities with function or structure of the eyelid
  • Obstruction – Conditions that obstruct the production of oil layer for tears, i.e. blockage of glands releasing oil
  • Tear Film – conditions that affect the production, composition, and distribution of tear
  • Inflammation – failure to address the root cause of OSD can lead to inflammation and infection worsening symptoms and requiring pharmacological intervention

Signs of Dry Eye Disease

Dry eye disease is a curious condition. Although it’s called dry eye disease, ocular surface disease can be characterized by excessively watery eyes. Knowing the symptoms of ocular surface disease

  • Red eyes
  • Watery eyes
  • Light sensitivity
  • Fluctuating vision
  • Dry, itchy, or gritty eyes
  • Blurred or inconsistent vision
  • Stinging or burning sensation
  • Contact lens discomfort and irritation
  • Frequent headaches when using a digital device for more than two hours a day  

With appropriate diagnosis and treatment, Dr. Munson can work with you to stop and even reverse the damage caused by dry eye disease. Prevention is the best treatment, and early intervention is the second best. If you’re experiencing any dry eye symptoms, make a reservation at Fort Collins Family Eye Care before you experience permanent damage to the delicate eye structures. 

What Your Tears Do For You

Every time you blink, a layer of tears is spread over the surface of your eye. Your tear film is really important for protecting your ocular surface. 

Your tear film is made of 3 layers:

  1. Inner mucus Layer – Base layer, spreads tear, keeps eye moist and allows tears to stick to eye
  2. Middle aqueous layer – most by volume of tear, washes away contaminants 
  3. Outer oily layer – smooths tear and helps prevent evaporation 

The outer layer of your tear film, the lipid layer, is produced by your meibomian glands. Meibomian gland dysfunction is one of the leading causes of ocular surface disease. Healthy tear production and composition not only nourishes the surface of your eye, but also helps to wash away contaminants and protect your eye from harmful bacteria and infection. The accurate diagnoses of the cause of your dry eye symptoms has implications not only for treating your symptoms, but for protecting your overall eye health. 

What Causes Dry Eyes?

There isn’t a singular cause of dry eyes. Dr. Munson needs to complete a comprehensive evaluation of your eye health to understand what is disrupting your ocular surface and causing your dry eye symptoms. Some possible causes of ocular surface disease are:  

  • Age – Hormonal changes cause less tear production, this is more common in women experiencing menopause
  • Medications – Antidepressants, antihistamine, decongestants, and birth control can cause dry eyes
  • Environmental – Exposure to wind, smoke, and extremely dry conditions
  • Contact lenses – contact wearers can develop ocular surface disease
  • LASIK – Those that have had the LASIK procedure are more likely to experience dry eyes
  • Allergies – can cause temporary dry eye symptoms
  • Autoimmune disease – lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and thyroid dysfunction can cause ocular surface disease
  • Digital vision syndrome – Staring at digital screens, not blinking frequently enough, and excessive strain from focusing and refocusing on the screen can cause dry eye symptoms to appear
  • Meibomian gland dysfunction – Your meibomian glands produce the oil in the outer lipid layer of your tear film that prevents your tears from evaporating. Any disruption to your meibomian glands can cause dry eyes. 

If you’re experiencing the signs of dry eye disease, Dr. Munson will perform a comprehensive ocular surface evaluation to properly diagnose the underlying cause of your symptoms and create an appropriate, personalized treatment plan. 

Preventing the Symptoms of Dry Eye

At Fort Collins Family Eye Care, prevention is our best treatment. If you’re already experiencing symptoms, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s too late. Good preventative and eye hygiene practices can go a long way when it comes to stopping the progression of ocular surface disease. 

Here are some basic tips to prevent the symptoms of dry eye disease:

  • Stay hydrated
  • Increase your intake of Omega 3 fatty acids
  • Eat a balanced diet with nutrient-dense foods
  • Rest your eyes – make sure you are getting enough sleep
  • Blink regularly to allow tears to lubricate your eyes properly
  • Wear sunglasses when outdoors, protect your eyes from sun and wind
  • Increase humidity at home and in your workplace and avoid excessively dry conditions
  • Use 20-20-20 rule when working with digital screens, every 20 minutes look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds

These tips can reduce the symptoms of dry eyes; however, they do not address the root cause. Schedule an examination with Dr. Munson to get a diagnosis and treatment for the underlying cause of your dry eyes. Want more tips on how to protect your vision? Check out our Top Eye Care Tips blog!

Can I Treat Dry Eye Disease At Home?

Although the market has ample products that provide options for self-treatment, you really shouldn’t take on treatment alone. You can certainly find drops to relieve some of the discomfort of dry eyes, but not receiving an appropriate diagnosis and treatment of the cause of your ocular surface disease can delay essential healing time and allow the disease to progress. 

Want to know more about how we treat your ocular surface disease? Visit our dry eye disease page or our EyeSpa site! Ready to finally get treatment for your dry eye symptoms? Call Fort Collins Family Eye Care today to schedule your exam! 

Why You Need To Care About The Signs of Dry Eye Disease

It can be tempting to buy some eye drops and call it a day. But the reality of OSD is that there are very real and sometimes permanent consequences of not actually treating your dry eyes. Setting aside the discomfort alone, which you shouldn't do, not treating your OSD can cause irreversible damage to your meibomian glands. Once these glands are gone, they’re gone, and you can’t grow them back. 

Delaying treatment for ocular surface disease can result in: 

  • Irritation
  • Changes in tissue
  • Reduction of visual function
  • Irreversible damage to the ocular surface

Intervening early or preventing damage in the first place is the best way to ensure clear, comfortable vision for life. If you want to know more about ocular surface disease, check out our dry eye disease page! 

If you’re experiencing any dry eye symptoms, don’t wait to seek treatment! You can protect the clarity and comfort of your vision! Call Fort Collins Family Eye Care today to schedule your ocular surface evaluation at (970) 223-7150.

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