Understanding the Difference Between Dry Eye and Meibomian Gland Dysfunction

April 18, 2023

Dry eye syndrome is caused by the eye’s failure to produce adequate tears to keep the eyes lubricated. It causes symptoms such as burning, irritation, and blurriness. Dry eye can occur due to the inability of the eyes to produce quality tears. 

Poor-quality tears evaporate rapidly, leaving the eyes dry. Dry eye can also be due to a dysfunction of the meibomian glands responsible for oil production. Understand the difference between dry eye and meibomian gland dysfunction.  


Healthy Tear Film

The tear film comprises three elements: water, oil, and mucus. The three layers help keep the tears healthy. The oil prevents the quick drying of tears, keeping the eye surface smooth and moist. The meibomian glands control the production of the oil. 

The lacrimal glands produce the watery layer, while the conjunctiva produces the mucus layer. The three layers work together to ensure that the tear film functions well to protect the eyes and keep them lubricated.


Dry Eye Syndrome


People with dry eye syndrome have a problem with the lacrimal glands, where they fail to produce enough tears. It could be due to various reasons, such as certain medical conditions, medications, and tear gland damage. The natural aging process and hormonal changes can also reduce the production of tears, leading to dry eye. The few tears produced evaporate rapidly, leaving the eyes dry. 


Meibomian Gland Dysfunction (MGD)


The meibomian glands are located along the eyelids. People who suffer from MGD have blocked glands that fail to secrete enough oil. The glands can become clogged by oil accumulation along the eyelids, inflammation, or damaged eyelids. 

Sometimes, the quality of the oil is poor or too thick, affecting the flow. Age and contact lens use can also affect the function of the glands. Some medications, including those used for hormone replacement therapy, affect oil production. 


Treating Dry Eye Syndrome 


Eye doctors employ several ways to treat dry eye syndrome. The treatment will depend on the root cause of the condition. In some cases, lifestyle changes can help relieve the symptoms. Managing underlying health conditions or changing medications can resolve the problem. 

If your condition is due to contact lens use, talk to your eye doctor about changing your lens type. Treatments include prescription eyedrops and TrueTear® therapy. The latter uses a neurostimulation device that sends energy pulses to help increase tear production. 


Treating Meibomian Gland Dysfunction

Eye doctors have some options to treat MGD. One is LipiFlow® thermal pulsation therapy that can eliminate gland blockages. The treatment is quick, taking about 12 minutes. It involves using gentle heat therapy to target the source of the condition. The blockages are usually cleared within two to four weeks. The treatment results can last months, but the therapy will need to be repeated to prevent the recurrence of the symptoms. 

Both dry eye syndrome and meibomian gland dysfunction can be treated effectively. A proper diagnosis will help determine the cause of the dry eye to ensure the most effective treatment. Failing to treat the conditions can lead to complications such as cornea damage. 

To better understand the difference between dry eye and meibomian gland dysfunction, visit the Eye Associates of New York at our New York, New York office. Call (212) 650-4888 to schedule an appointment today.

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