Harvard Health Letter

When eyes get dry and what you can try

If artificial tears don't work, anti-inflammatory cyclosporine drops may.

We notice tears when we cry and when others do. Psychologists theorize that weeping is an "attachment behavior" designed to get others to help us — you might say that tears are a cry for help. There's an old theory that sobbing may help fend off infections, the notion being that some of the overflow drains into the nose through the tiny ducts that connects the inside corners of the eyes to the nose. In the nose, tears moisten nasal mucous membranes so they're more effective at corralling bacteria and viruses.

But if our eyes are healthy, we're actually producing tears all the time and not noticing it very much, if at all. We need a thin layer of tears to lubricate, protect, and nourish the fronts of our eyes. That "tear film," as ophthalmologists call it, isn't just salty water but a complex mixture of substances produced and maintained by several glands and structures in and around the eyes. If the tear film degrades, we experience dry eyes. The symptoms are familiar to many of us: irritation, scratchiness, a burning sensation. Sometimes vision is affected, getting blurry off and on.

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