Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a neurological disorder wherein the myelin, a naturally occurring substance that sheathes and insulates the body’s nerves, is damaged. This loss of insulation impairs nervous function by reducing the efficacy of individual nerves and enabling them to affect the activity of neighboring and similarly exposed nerves. A good analogy to MS is to imagine a house wired with bare copper wire rather than the correct plastic-sheathed variety. Where the insulated wires would cross and not affect one another, the exposed kind would lose efficiency and likely interfere with others’ performance.
The exact cause of MS is uncertain, although it appears probable that the condition results when the body’s natural immune system mistakes myelin for a threat and damages it in its attempt to remove it. Alternately, research has proposed that the fault lies within the myelin cells themselves. The nervous system is essential to overall bodily function, and as such the neurological root of MS results in a wide array of symptoms. Although symptoms and their severity vary greatly among patients, their visual varieties may include pain as the result of inflammation of the optic nerve, uncontrollable horizontal or vertical eye movements, and double vision.
One of our natural reactions to eye pain is to rub our eyes which, while providing a momentary sensation of relief, can contribute to the overall feeling of dryness. Straining to see correctly when confronted with the obstacle of double vision can exhaust the eyes and inhibit their normal self-moisturizing function. The friction caused by rapid and unceasing eye movements depletes naturally produced moisture faster than the rate at which eyes in their natural resting state do. All together, the visual impairments MS presents act accordingly to bother the eyes and dry them.
The usual remedies of eyedrops and rest may help to alleviate eye discomfort, the latter especially working to reduce double vision. Hot baths and exercise increase body temperature, which in turn exacerbates the visual symptoms of MS, so cooling off after these activities is an advisable course of action. Visual activities like reading and watching a screen tire and dry eyes in people with MS and without, so refraining from these activities for a rest is beneficial.
It is important to note that while the visual symptoms of MS may indeed result in dry and irritated eyes, the specific condition known as dry eye in and of itself is not a symptom indicative of the condition. Dry eye may actually result from the somewhat similar disease known as Sjogren's syndrome where the body’s immune system specifically targets and weakens moisture-producing glands like the ones responsible for the lubrication of the eye. It is not uncommon for sufferers of Sjorgen’s syndrome to suspect they may have MS. If you have any of the above symptoms, it is so important to speak with your doctor about possible tests and treatment options!
Dr. Jenna Zigler
Other Dry Eye articles by Dr. Zigler: 4 Tips to Stop Waking Up With Dry, Painful Eyes; Which Antidepressants Cause Dry Eye; Fish Oil for Fighting Dry Eye Inflammation; and What Not To Eat If You Have Dry Eye
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