Poor quality tears, reduced tear secretion, or a combination of these are usually to blame for dry eye symptoms. But in some cases, eyes that feel dry may have nothing to do with dry eyes.
That’s when neurological issues come in. Disguised as dry eye syndrome, these issues can cause burning, and sharp, needle-like symptoms in your eyes.
In this post, we delve deeper into the link between neurological issues and dry eyes. We also talk about neurological eye-related symptoms, diagnosis, and treatments.
Neuropathic Dry Eye Explained
Neurological issues encompass a wide range of conditions affecting your nervous system. That is, anything to do with your brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nerves.
These conditions can cause migraines and nerve damage. But they can also lead to more severe conditions, like multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease.
While your nervous system doesn’t directly control tear production, the different systems of your body, including your eyes, are closely connected. Problems with one system may lead to problems with another.
In certain cases, neurological issues could indirectly contribute to dry eyes, leading to neuropathic dry eye. Neuropathic dry eye causes include:
- Optic neuritis: This is an inflammation of the optic nerve (the nerve that transmits visual information from your eye to your brain.) It’s common in people with multiple sclerosis. Sudden vision loss, blurred vision, and eye pain are some common dry eye symptoms to look out for.
- Corneal nerve dysfunction: Neurological issues can also lead to nerve dysfunction and damage, including those in your cornea. Can nerve damage cause dry eyes? A study shows that corneal nerve damage can affect your tear flow and blinking, leading to dry eyes.
- Ischemic optic neuropathy: This condition disrupts the blood flow to your eyes. This not only damages your optic nerve, but also leads to blurry vision and vision loss.
- Parkinson’s disease: Parkinson’s primarily affects your movement and muscle control. When that happens, blinking becomes tough. Impaired, incomplete blinking can make your eyes feel dry and gritty.
- Chronic pain syndrome: Chronic pain disorder involves long-lasting pain, often more than three to six months. It primarily affects your autonomic nervous system, which regulates functions like tear production and blink reflex.
- Ocular neuropathic pain: This type of pain originates from nerve dysfunction or damage within your eye. It’s often misdiagnosed as dry eye syndrome, and causes eye discomfort, burning, and grittiness.
- Peripheral neuropathy: This condition involves dysfunction or damage to your peripheral nerves. These nerves transmit signals between your central nervous system and your other body parts, including your eyes. Any dysfunction or damage of these nerves affects your tear production and blinking and can lead to dry eye symptoms.
Neuropathic Dry Eye Symptoms
Neurological disorders can impact the nerves in your eyes and surrounding structures. They also reduce blood flow to your eyes and impair muscle movement.
This not only affects your tear production and blinking, but also your overall eye health. You will experience dry eye-like symptoms, such as:
- Tear production disruption: Nerves play a crucial role in signaling your lacrimal glands to produce tears. Neuropathic issues can interfere with this signaling, leading to reduced tear production.
- Dry cornea: Blinking helps spread tears across the surface of your eyes. Abnormal nerve function can cause reduced blinking frequency, leading to dry spots on your cornea.
- Eye pain and sensitivity: Chronic nerve pain syndrome and corneal nerve dysfunction are two common culprits behind eye pain and discomfort. Dry, windy conditions will heighten this sensitivity.
- Inflammation: Neurological issues, like optic neuritis, can trigger an inflammatory response. This can disrupt the normal function of your ocular surface and contribute to dry eye symptoms.
Neuropathic Dry Eye Diagnosis
As it happens, neurological disorders, when impacting your eyes, often disguise themselves as dry eye syndrome. A 2011 study was conducted to identify severe eye pain in 58 patients that didn’t match the visible signs of dry eyes.
The study concluded that neurological diseases caused dry eye-like symptoms without dry eyes. Proper diagnosis will help you tell apart the two conditions. It will also influence your treatment strategy.
Since neuropathic dry eye is a complex condition, it requires a careful assessment of both ocular and neurological factors. The diagnostic process typically includes several steps:
- Medical history: Your doctor will first ask for a detailed medical history. This will include any existing medical conditions, past eye problems, and neurological issues you may have.
- Symptom assessment: Be prepared to explain the nature of discomfort, pain, dryness, and any other sensations you’re experiencing in and around your eyes.
- Ocular examination: Your ophthalmologist will perform a thorough eye examination. They will assess the health of your cornea, conjunctiva, tear film, and other eye structures.
- Neurological assessment: Depending on your case, a neurological assessment will be carried out for effective diagnosis. This will involve evaluating your reflexes, sensory perception, and motor function related to the nerves in your eyes.
Neuropathic Dry Eye Treatment
Treating neuropathic dry eye involves a combination of addressing the underlying nerve issue and managing the dry eye symptoms. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach.
Your treatment may require a personalized approach, based on your specific case and needs. Let’s take a closer look at the main stages of a treatment for dry eye symptoms with presumed neuropathic ocular pain.
1. Address the Underlying Condition
If your dry eye-like symptoms are a result of an underlying neurological disorder, addressing the primary condition is crucial. This will help improve nerve function and subsequently alleviate dry eye symptoms.
Your treatment approach will likely include anti-inflammatory agents as well as anti-neuropathic pain drugs. You may also be prescribed artificial tears for symptomatic relief.
2. Blink Consciously
Neuropathic issues can interfere with your blink rate. Conscious blinking, on the other hand, can help stimulate tear production and improve tear distribution.
You don’t need to blink forcefully; instead, focus on gentle and natural blinking motions. Make sure your upper and lower eyelids touch each other during each blink.
3. Try Acupuncture
Acupuncture treatment involves inserting thin needles into specific points on your body. Doing so increases blood circulation and reduces inflammation.
In case of neuropathic dry eyes, acupuncture treatment may alleviate your symptoms. It can stimulate your autonomic nervous system and increase lacrimal gland secretion.
4. Opt for Neuromodulation Therapies
Neuromodulation therapies aim to modify or regulate the function of your nerves. These therapies can be used as part of neuropathic dry eye treatment. They will help alleviate symptoms and restore normal nerve activity.
Some neuromodulation therapies to consider are:
- Electrical stimulation: This involves applying electrical currents to specific points on the skin to stimulate nerve pathways. It’s especially beneficial for promoting tear production and relieving eye discomfort.
- Nerve blocks: In this, medications are injected into specific nerves to block pain signals. It’s used to temporarily interrupt the abnormal pain signals and provide relief in case of neuropathic dry eye.
- Cold therapy: Applying cold temperatures to specific areas around your eyes can help reduce nerve activity and alleviate pain.
- Neuromuscular massage: This involves gentle manipulation of muscles and soft tissues around your eyes to improve blood flow and reduce muscle tension.
The Wrap Up
Neurological issues and the dry eye-like symptoms they trigger can be challenging to manage. But understanding your condition, following a proper treatment strategy, and regularly consulting your doctor is the way forward.
That way, you will not only combat any dry eye-related symptoms, but also keep the condition from progressing.
Taking an eye health supplement may also help. Blueberry Gummies provide antioxidants including anthocyanins, lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta-carotene together with vitamins and minerals that work together to support eye health in the digital age and improve dry eye symptoms.
Blueberry Gummies are made with Canadian blueberries and sweetened with monk fruit, a zero-calorie, diabetes-friendly sweetener. They are easy to take at home, at work, or while you’re on the go.
Keep your eyes happy with Blueberry Gummies.