Defending Against Dry Eye Syndrome

Defending Against Dry Eye Syndrome

Dry Eye Syndrome is very common, impacting more than 3 million people per year.

There is nothing worse than dry, itchy eyes. When it comes to taking care of your workers, one of the most important things you should be concerned with is their eye health. Perhaps the most common conditions affecting the vision of employees is Dry Eye Syndrome. Let’s take a look into what Dry Eye Syndrome is, how it impacts employees, prevention and treatment opportunities.

What is Dry Eye Syndrome?

Dry Eye Syndrome is one of the most common eye conditions worldwide and a primary reason for visits to the eye doctor. Dry Eye Syndrome is caused by a lack of sufficient lubrication and moisture on the surface of the eye. Healthy tears help lubricate, heal and protect the surface of the eye. If a person is unable to produce healthy tears, the eyes become vulnerable to inflammation and progressive disease.

What Are the Symptoms?

Symptoms of Dry Eye Syndrome include a burning sensation, itchy eyes, aching sensations, heavy eyes, fatigued eyes, sore eyes, dryness, red eyes, photophobia and blurred vision. A common symptom is “foreign body sensation,” or the feeling that grit or some other object or material is “in” your eye.

Another common symptom of dry eye is actually watery eyes. This seems odd as the name of the syndrome is, “dry eye” and the most common symptoms are dryness and itchiness, but dry eyes become watery because they are trying to compensate. The dryness on the eye’s surface sometimes will trigger the production of the watery component of your tears as a protective mechanism. This “reflex tearing” does not stay on the eye long enough to correct the underlying dry eye condition, however.

In addition to these symptoms, dry eyes can cause inflammation and (sometimes permanent) damage to the surface of the eye.

What Causes Dry Eye Syndrome?

An adequate and consistent layer of tears on the surface of the eye is essential to keep your eyes healthy, comfortable and seeing well. Tears bathe on the eye’s surface to keep it moist and wash away dust, debris and microorganisms that could damage the cornea and lead to an eye infection.

Healthy tear film is made up of three components: lipid, aqueous and mucin. The oily component is produced by the Meibomian glands in the eyelids while the watery component is produced by the lacrimal glands located behind the outer aspect of the upper eyelids. The third component, mucin, is produced by goblet cells in the conjunctiva that covers the white of the eye, or the sclera.

Each component of the tear film serves a critical purpose. For example, tear lipids help keep the tear film from evaporating too quickly and increase lubrication while mucin helps to anchor and spread the tears across the surface of the eye.

A problem with any of these sources of tear components can result in tear instability and dry eyes, and there are different categories of dry eyes, depending on which component is affected. For example, if the Meibomian glands don’t produce or secrete enough oil (meibum), the tear film may evaporate too quickly—a condition called “evaporate dry eye.” The underlying condition, called Meibomian Gland Dysfunction, is now recognized as a significant factor in many cases of Dry Eye Syndrome.

In other cases, the primary cause of dry eye is a failure of the lacrimal glands to produce enough watery liquid to keep eyes adequately moistened. This condition is called “aqueous deficiency dry eye.” The specific type of dry eye will determine the type of treatment your doctor will recommend to relieve your symptoms.

Testing for Dry Eye

Symptoms alone are poor predictors of the presence and severity of Dry Eye Syndrome. For those who think they might have Dry Eye Syndrome, a doctor can perform one or more tests to confirm dry eye and what category. These tests can also help a doctor decide how to move forward with treatment options.


Safety glasses have been worn for decades and were first introduced to reduce the incidents of a direct projectile reaching the eye. Over the last several years, requests by employers have increased for added protection for workers to combat dry eye. They were not only concerned about direct impacts to the eyes but also, eliminating eye injuries due to dusty atmosphere and particulates in the workplace.

To answer the needs of these employers, Safe-Vision set out to design and augment its exclusive safety eyewear line with specific frames that helped to eliminate dust and other airborne particulates from contact with workers’ eyes. Specific frames were also developed that would give workers additional eye protection from splash and droplets in surroundings were there was a danger when working with liquids.

Three specific frames designs were developed. The first line of defense was to augment its frame line with additional frames that had brow guards or dust dams on the inside top of the frames. The brow guard is made of either a rubber or foam like material that helps reduce particulate from reaching the eye from the top of the frame.

The second type of protection and sometimes mandated by certain companies, is a full surround protection. This protection is again made of a rubber or foam like material but different than brow guard. The full surround protection is placed on a major portion of the inside of the front of the frame. This protection gives maximum protection from particulates.

Lastly, there is protection from splash and droplets from liquids. Protection from this is made using flexible rubber gaskets or seals that attach to the back of the front of the frame. It should be noted that while additional protection is gained with using brow guards and full seal gaskets, this protection is not fool proof and may add additional issues. With this additional protection, air circulation to the eye may be lessened and fogging of the lenses may occur.

Specific safety eyewear can help moderate certain causes of Dry Eye Syndrome; however, it may be necessary to consult an eye doctor for the best result. The specific type of dry eye often will determine the type of treatment your eye doctor recommends giving you relief from your dry eye symptoms.

Using safety glasses cannot only protect your eyesight from unseen hazards, but also help improve some of the conditions that effect Dry Eye Syndrome.


Thankfully, there are effective treatment options if you suffer from chronic dry eye. In many cases, routine use of artificial tears and minor behavioral modifications, such as taking frequent breaks during computer use, for example, can significantly reduce dry eye symptoms. In other cases, an eye doctor might recommend prescription eye medications and in-office procedures to help the body create and secrete more tears and to decrease eye irritation and inflammation.

This article originally appeared in the September 2019 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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