Tears: what a wonderfully peculiar function of the incomprehensibly complex human body. We normally correlate the act of crying tears with our extraordinary range of human emotions. We shed tears of joy, tears of sadness, tears of pain (aptly named “emotional tears”)… But did you also know that your tears serve an indispensable purpose to keep the outer layer of your eyes healthy as well?
The front surface of our eyes require a healthy layer of tears to maintain proper focus, lubrication, oxygen, and nourishment. The tears are essential to proper focusing, and without them the images we see become blurry. Each time we blink, the eyelid distributes a fresh layer of tears over the eyes. We normally blink twenty times a minute, which is about every three seconds. When concentrating on something in particular (i.e., on a device, book, or computer), however, our blink rate drops to only about a third that amount (one blink every ten seconds).
Many people experience discomfort caused by inefficient tear quality or insufficient tear quantity, causing dry eyes. Dry Eye Syndrome sounds like a simple, self-explanatory problem, but it is actually quite complex. The symptoms and treatments of dry eye syndrome vary widely. A healthy tear layer provides several vital functions to our eyes, including lubrication (to soothe the friction caused by the eyelid when we blink), optimized optics, protection, and nourishment of the eye.
Three Tear Types
The three types of tears our eyes produce are basal tears, reflex tears, and emotional tears. Basal tears are the normal level of wetness that our eyes should have at all times. Basal tears provide lubrication between the cornea and the eyelid, and they also act to provide protection from dust, mild fumes, bacteria, viruses, and other foreign particles. Exposure to strong fumes, wind, or even spicy foods cause a more robust tear response called reflex tearing. Reflex tearing works by sending out an acute burst of tears in hopes that the additional tear volume will wash away the offending foreign substances or fumes. Emotional tears are the flood of tears in response to mourning, weeping, or “tears of joy” that run over the eyelids onto our face and into our nasal passages.
Tears drain from the eyes into the nasal passages through four ducts, one in each of the eyelids near the inner corners closest to the nose. The hole in each eyelid connecting to the canal is called the punctum. Approximately 80 percent of the tears drain through the two lower eyelid ducts, and the remaining tears drain through the top ducts. This direct drainage connection from the eyes to the nasal passages explains why your nose runs when you are crying, as the nasal passages drain off excessive tearing from the eyes via these drainage canals.
Dry Eyes and Tears
Dry eye syndrome is primarily a dysfunction of the basal tears, as most dry eye sufferers still have normal reflex and emotional tearing. Men and women of all ages can be affected by dry eyes, and it may be acute or chronic in nature. For some, dry eye syndrome is just a minor nuisance that requires nothing more than instilling an artificial tear drop occasionally to provide relief. However, severe dry eye syndrome may be so visually disabling that the individual is functionally incapacitated and cannot carry on a normal lifestyle. Symptoms caused by dry eyes are among the most common reasons for visits to eye doctors. Fortunately, we have our own Dry Eye Clinic at Primary Eyecare.
Depending upon the cause of dry eye (causes range from environmental conditions like winter weather or harsh chemicals in the air to insufficient tear quality, to irritation from wearing contact lenses), the dry eye doctors at Primary Eyecare can help diagnose the cause and prescribe the appropriate treatment. There are dozens of over-the-counter artificial tear solutions that help replace the deficient tear layers in the eyes. These drops have limitations in their symptom-reducing longevity, but they do provide short-term relief and comfort for dry eyes.
If you are experience dry eyes or excessive tearing, contact us today to begin your journey to comfort at last. Click here to Request An Appointment or call (434) 977-2020, and we look forward to helping you.
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