Our eyes need tears to stay healthy and comfortable. If your eyes do not produce enough tears, it is called dry eye. Dry eye is also when your eyes do not make the right type of tears or tear film.
When you blink, a film of tears spreads over the eye. This keeps the eye’s surface smooth and clear. The tear film is important for good vision.
The tear film is made of three layers:
Each layer of the tear film serves a purpose.
The oily layer is the outside of the tear film. It makes the tear surface smooth and keeps tears from drying up too quickly. This layer is made in the eye’s meibomian glands.
The watery layer is the middle of the tear film. It makes up most of what we see as tears. This layer cleans the eye, washing away particles that do not belong in the eye. This layer comes from the lacrimal glands in the eyelids.
The mucus layer is the inner layer of the tear film. This helps spread the watery layer over the eye’s surface, keeping it moist. Without mucus, tears would not stick to the eye. Mucus is made in the conjunctiva. This is the clear tissue covering the white of your eye and inside your eyelids.
Normally, our eyes constantly make tears to stay moist. If our eyes are irritated, or we cry, our eyes make a lot of tears. But, sometimes the eyes don’t make enough tears or something affects one or more layers of the tear film. In those cases, we end up with dry eyes.
Symptoms of dry eyes
Dry eyes can cause the following symptoms in the eyes:
Causes of dry eyes
Dry eyes occur if there is a lack of tear production, if tears evaporate from the eye too quickly, or if there is an issue with the quality of tears. This can be due to a range of factors, including:
Do eye masks work?
Heated eye masks can be a beneficial treatment option to help relieve the symptoms of dry eyes.
According to 2017 researchTrusted Source, heated eye masks may help treat MGD, a leading cause of dry eyes in the United States.
The article suggests previous studies demonstrate that the ideal temperature to treat MGD ranges from 89.6ºF (32ºC) to 113ºF (45ºC), with severely obstructed glands requiring temperatures greater than 104ºF (40ºC).
Achieving this temperature can be difficult, as there is a 41ºF (5ºC) difference between the heat a person applies to the eyelid surface and the location of the meibomian glands. Applying temperatures of 113ºF (45ºC) to the outer eyelid may cause damage to the skin.
Reaching the desired temperature is possible with certain heated eye masks. However, a person may need to visit a healthcare professional’s office to undergo the treatment.
Alternatively, there are some heated eye masks that a person can use at home.
A 2014 randomized, controlled treatment trialTrusted Source comparing the use of a heated towel and a heated eye mask found that the eye mask was more effective in treating MGD.
Additionally, a 2015 comparisonTrusted Source of self-applied heat therapy found that applying heat using a portable heated eye mask may be beneficial for those with MGD experiencing mild-to-moderate symptoms of dry eye.
The researchers from the 2017 article state that a person can use heated eye masks at home as a supplemental therapy to treat MGD. Individuals can use them daily for 10–15 minutesTrusted Source.
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