Dry Eye Syndrome 101: What You Need to Know

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Do your eyes often feel dry, have a stinging sensation, or feel scratchy? You may have dry eye syndrome (keratoconjunctivitis sicca), a condition that can occur when the tear glands don't produce the correct quantity or quality of tears. Dry eye syndrome is a chronic lack of moisture in the eye. If left untreated, dry eye syndrome may reduce vision and lead to eye infections.

Tears are essential for maintaining healthy eyes.

Tears are made of compounds that keep the eyes moist and clean. If too few tears are produced or their chemical composition is altered, the annoying symptoms of dry eye syndrome may develop.

Symptoms of Dry Eye Syndrome

Symptoms of dry eye syndrome may differ greatly from person to person. Some people may experience many more symptoms than others. The most common symptoms reported for dry eye syndrome include the following: 

  • Itchy, dry eyes
  • Stinging or burning eyes
  • Foreign body sensation
  • Redness
  • Excessive tearing
  • Blurry vision
  • Increased discomfort after watching television or reading.

Causes of Dry Eye Syndrome

Some common causes of dry eye syndrome include the following:

  • Hormonal changes - Aging, menstruation, pregnancy and menopause can alter hormones, causing tears to change.
  • Medications - Many medications decrease tear production.
  • Medical conditions - Systemic diseases, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and Sjogren's syndrome, may lead to dry eyes.
  • Contact lensesContact lenses tend to absorb the tear film.
  • Environment - Dry, windy climates, air-conditioning and cigarette smoke sometimes cause dry eyes.
  • Chemical eye burns - Chemical burns can disrupt normal cell reproduction on the cornea which cause surface irregularities and dry eye symptoms.
  • Computer use - Forgetting to blink while using the computer can cause dryness. The normal blink rate is about 15 times per minute. Studies show that when we work on the computer, our blink rate tends to drop to about 3-5 times per minute.

Diagnosis of Dry Eye Syndrome

An eye doctor may perform a few quick tests to determine if you are suffering from dry eye syndrome. Testing may include the following: 

  • The Schirmer tear test - A strip of filter paper is placed under each lower eyelid. The strips are removed after a few minutes and the moistened area on the strip is measured. This tells the doctor how many tears your tear glands are producing.
  • Corneal staining - Special eye drops containing dyes are placed in the eye. Staining patterns can reveal damage to the eye surface.
  • Tear break-up time (TBUT) - After placing dye in the eyes, the doctor uses a slit lamp to determine how long it takes dry spots to develop. This gives the doctor information about the stability of your tears.

Treatment of Dry Eye Syndrome

Unfortunately, there is no cure for dry eye syndrome.

However, several treatment options are available to help manage its symptoms. Your eye doctor will be able to assist you in determining which treatments will work best for you.

The most common treatments for dry eye syndrome include:

  • Artificial tears eye drops - Artificial tears are commercially prepared over-the-counter eye drops that mimic your own tears. Artificial tears lubricate the eye, relieving many of the symptoms of dry eyes. The composition of artificial tears vary depending on the type of dry eye that is being treated.
  • Gels and Ointments - Gels and ointments are similar to artificial tears but they last for much longer. They tend to be thicker and can cause blurred vision while using them. Gels and ointments are more commonly prescribed for night time use.
  • Punctal plugs - Your eye doctor can insert silicone plugs into the tear ducts, preventing tears from draining out. This allows your own natural tears to lubricate the surface longer.
  • Immuno-modulatory drugs - These drugs are prescription only and are prescribed to change the local immune system around the tear glands. This acts to increase tear production.
  • Corticosteroids - Some types of dry eye conditions are caused by inflammation. Eye drop steroids act to reduce the inflammation.
  • Eye masks - Sleeping with some type of masks over the eye keep air from ceiling fans from worsening dry eye symptoms.

What You Should Know About Dry Eye Syndrome

Dry eye syndrome causes a lack of eye moisture. Healthy tears nourish and protect the eyes. It is important that your eyes produce the right amount of the right kind of tears. If your eyes do not produce healthy tears, the surface of the eyes may be damaged. Dry eye syndrome may develop and, if left untreated, may harm your vision or lead to infections of the eyes.


American Optometric Association. Dry Eye. 08 Aug 2007.

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