Will Punctal Plugs Treat My Dry Eyes?

Do your dry, irritated eyes cause you discomfort? Dry eyes can be incredibly frustrating.

Having dry eyes may not seem like it’s a debilitating condition, but they can be hard to treat. They can also increase your risk of developing infections and corneal ulcers if left untreated.

Sometimes, dry eyes are caused by environmental factors or by wearing contact lenses. But other times, having dry eyes is due to a chronic condition.

No matter what’s causing your dry eyes, there are treatment options. Some of these are entirely non-invasive.

But when those options don’t lead to significant symptom relief, a minimally-invasive surgical procedure like having punctal plugs inserted into your tear ducts often helps. Keep reading to find out if punctal plugs will treat your dry eyes!

What is Dry Eye Syndrome?

For some people, having dry eyes can be the result of spending too much time in an arid environment. Suffering from dry eyes is quite common when you spend a lot of time outside in the extreme heat, cold, or when you’re often dehydrated. Certain medications can also cause dry eyes.

Woman putting in contacts

You may also notice that your eyes feel dry as a side effect of improper or prolonged contact lens use. In these cases, changing your environment may help relieve your dry eyes.

Others, however, may suffer from a chronic eye condition called dry eye syndrome. Anyone can develop dry eye syndrome, but it’s more common in older people, as well as women.

It’s most prevalent in women going through hormonal changes, often due to menopause. Having dry eyes means you either don’t produce enough tears, or the tears you’re making are low in quality and lacking essential nutrients.

Producing low-quality tears is more likely than not creating enough tears. When your tears lack necessary components, it’s usually the result of having a tear imbalance.

Tears have three layers and are part of the tear film. To have healthy tears that provide necessary nutrients to the eyes, they need to contain mucus, water, and oil.

What Causes Dry Eye Syndrome?

Tear Film Diagram

One cause of dry eye syndrome is that the meibomian glands aren’t functioning correctly. The meibomian glands are responsible for producing the outermost tear layer, which is made of oil.

Without the protective oil layer, your tears dissolve too quickly on the surface of the eye. When the tears evaporate from the surface of the eye too quickly, it leads to a condition called meibomian gland dysfunction, which is also known as evaporative dry eye.

Another cause of dry eye syndrome is if the tears lack enough water, called aqueous-deficient dry eye. Dry eye syndrome can also be due to having a mucus layer that’s lacking.

The mucus layer is the base layer of the tear. The mucus layer may be too thin due to vitamin deficiency or other conditions that make it harder for the goblet cells in the eye, which produce mucus, to function correctly.

Sometimes it can be hard to identify the exact cause of dry eye syndrome. Your eye doctor at Diagnostic Eye Center can diagnose the condition by assessing your symptoms, as well as your tear production and composition.

Symptoms

Woman holding glasses and rubbing eyes

Dry eyes often look red and feel irritated, like they’re burning. They may feel itchy, but the primary issue is pain.

Experiencing pain makes dry eye symptoms distinct from allergic symptoms. People with dry eyes also often feel like there’s grit on the surface of the eyes even when they’re clean.

While you may suspect that you have dry eye syndrome based on your symptoms, the only way to know if you have it is to receive a diagnosis. After being diagnosed, you can start treating your dry eyes.

If you see an eye care specialist at Diagnostic Eye Center, they can assess your symptoms and examine your tears to tell if the symptoms are caused by inadequate tear composition. They then can recommend treatment based on the severity of your particular case. For moderate to severe cases, punctal plugs can be highly effective.

How Punctal Plugs Work

Punctal Plugs

Punctal occlusion, or punctal plugs, work by helping your tears stay on the surface of the eye longer. Keeping tears on the surface of the eye helps compensate for lacking tear composition, which can lead to improvement with aqueous-deficient dry eye and deficiency in the mucin tear layer.

The procedure is minimally invasive and involves inserting tiny plugs into the puncta. The puncta are the small openings in the very corner of your eye near your nose that tears drain through. By blocking them off, your tears stay on the surface of the eye until they evaporate.

Punctal plugs can be very effective, but eye doctors usually recommend other forms of treatment before they recommend this minimally-invasive surgical option for treating dry eyes.

Alternative Treatments

You may be able to treat dry eye syndrome and temporary dry eye by making lifestyle changes like taking a break from contact lenses, using a humidifier in the home, and making sure you drink enough water to stay hydrated. Nutritional supplements like fish oil are also helpful as they contain omega-3 fatty acids.

Cooking healthy dinner

Omega-3 fatty acids are an essential nutrient for tear health, as is vitamin A. You can also find these nutrients in salmon, tuna, walnuts, and dark, leafy greens.

For temporary relief, you can use lubricating eye drops or artificial tears. You can buy eye drops and artificial tears over-the-counter at most drugstores, but be sure to talk to your eye doctor first to find out which artificial tears are best for you.

Placing a warm compress over your eyes can also help provide temporary relief by softening clogged meibomian glands, allowing better oil flow, leading to better tear composition. Some medications and therapies can also help with evaporative dry eye.

If these measures aren’t effective, punctal plugs are a great option as they can give you much-needed relief from dry eye, especially when other treatments have failed.

Are you wondering if punctal plugs could help your dry eye symptoms? Schedule an appointment at Diagnostic Eye Center in Houston, TX, today to learn more!