The Astonishing, Life-Sustaining, Sacred Tear
By Richard P. Holm, MD
Washington Irving once said, “There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.”
Normal human tears are a biological wonder composed of a watery portion for providing the cornea hydration and nutrition; a mucous lubrication component for making a tear slimy; and a third thin outer layer of oil for slowing evaporation. Put together you have the astonishing, life-sustaining, curative, slippery and slow-to-evaporate human tear. Vision is completely dependent on tears because the cornea, for purposes of transparency, is designed without blood vessels and is kept alive only by the nutrition it receives from tears.
“Dry eye,” is a condition related to issues involving the eye surface, including the loss of the effectiveness of tear film. Symptoms include pain, itching, burning, redness and mucous around the eye with fluctuating vision that interferes with recreation, reading and even driving. Paradoxically, watery eyes usually indicate a dry and inflamed eye with reactive, poor-quality tears.
The most common causes for dry eye are side effects from many medications. These include decongestants, antihistamines and meds used for acne, fluid excess, blood pressure or bladder spasm. Environmental causes include extensive reading, eye surgery, excessive computer use, contact-lenses, low humidity, wind or fans blowing on the face and a diet without enough oil or certain minerals and vitamins. Primary medical causes for dry eyes include immunologic conditions like diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, scleroderma, low thyroid, Sjogren’s syndrome, vitamin A deficiency and just plain aging. Dry eye affects twice as many women as men, and in the U.S. alone, we spend $3.8 billion in health care dollars for this condition, with societal costs estimated at $55 billion a year.
For treatment, we focus on situations causing symptoms and then find ways to avoid those situations. We can include in our diet enough fish, flaxseed or flaxseed oil, liver, carrots, broccoli and walnuts. Protective eyewear can help. Doctors treat some cases with surgery by plugging the tear ducts that drain tears away. Eye drops that reduce inflammation can help. Artificial tears are often prescribed, but as helpful as tears from a dropper may be, they are never as good as the real deal.
Nothing will ever compare to the value and the sacredness of a human tear.
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