If you have dry eye syndrome, your eyes don’t produce enough
tears or you aren’t able to maintain a normal layer of tears to coat your eyes.
As a result, your eyes cannot eliminate dust and other irritants. This can lead
to the following symptoms in your eyes:
See your doctor right away if you have dry eyes and a sudden
increase in discomfort or a sudden decrease in your ability to see.
Reading extensively, working on the computer, or spending long
hours in a dry environment may further aggravate your eyes if you have this
condition. If you have dry eye syndrome, your eyes may also be prone to
bacterial infections or the surface of your eyes may become inflamed, causing
scarring on your cornea. Although it’s uncomfortable, dry eye syndrome almost
never causes permanent vision loss.
Are the Symptoms of Dry Eye Syndrome?
The most common symptoms of dry eye syndrome are burning, pain,
and redness in the eyes. Other common symptoms include watery tearing or
stringy mucus in the eyes. You may find that your eyes get tired faster than
they used to or that you have difficulty reading or sitting at the computer for
long periods. The feeling of having sand in your eyes and blurry vision are
Are the Causes of Dry Eye Syndrome?
Tears have three layers. There’s the oily outer layer, the watery
middle layer, and the inner mucus layer. If the glands that produce the various
elements of your tears are inflamed or don’t produce enough water, oil, or
mucus, it can lead to dry eye syndrome. When oil is missing from your tears,
they quickly evaporate and your eyes cannot maintain a steady supply of
The causes of dry eye syndrome include:
- hormone replacement therapy
- exposure to the wind or dry air, such as
constant exposure to a heater during the winter
- LASIK eye surgery
- some medications, including antihistamines,
nasal decongestants, birth control pills, and antidepressants
- long-term contact lens wear
- staring at a computer for long hours
- not blinking enough
Is at Risk for Dry Eye Syndrome?
Dry eye syndrome is more common in people age 50 and older. It’s
estimated that there are 5
million Americans in this age group with the condition. The majority of
them are women, but the condition does occur in men. Women who are pregnant, on
hormone replacement therapy, or going through menopause are more at risk. The
following underlying conditions can also increase your risk:
- chronic allergies
- thyroid disease or other conditions that push
the eyes forward
- lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and other immune
- exposure keratitis, which occurs from sleeping
with your eyes partially open
- vitamin A deficiency, which is unlikely if you
get sufficient nutrition
Is Dry Eye Syndrome Diagnosed?
If your eyes feel dry and you suddenly find yourself unable to
see as well as you used to, visit an ophthalmologist right away. After describing
your symptoms, you’ll likely undergo tests that examine the amount of tears in
your eyes, such as a slit lamp, or biomicroscope, exam of your tears. For this
test, your doctor will use a dye such as fluorescein to make the tear film on
your eyes more visible.
A Schirmer’s test may also be used to measure how quickly your
eyes produce tears. This tests your rate of tear production using a paper wick
placed on the edge of your eyelid. Your eye doctor also might refer you to a
specialist. Which doctor they’ll refer you to depends on the underlying cause
of your condition. For example, they can refer you to an allergist if you have
Is Dry Eye Syndrome Treated?
Eye drops that increase your eye moisture are among the most
common treatments for dry eye syndrome. Artificial tears also work well for
Your eye doctor might use plugs to block the drainage holes in
the corners of your eyes. This is a relatively painless, reversible procedure
that slows tear loss. If your condition is severe, the plugs may be recommended
as a permanent solution.
The medication most commonly prescribed for dry eye syndrome is
an anti-inflammatory called cyclosporine (Restasis). The drug increases the
amount of tears in your eyes and lowers the risk of damage to your cornea. If
your case of dry eye is severe, you may need to use corticosteroid eye drops
for a short time while the medication takes effect. Alternative medications include
cholinergics such as pilocarpine. These medications help stimulate tear
If another medication is causing your eyes to become dry, your
doctor may switch your prescription to try to find one that doesn’t dry out
You need a well-balanced diet with enough protein and vitamins to
keep your eyes healthy. Omega-3 essential fatty acid supplements are sometimes
recommended to enhance the oil content of the eye. Usually, people need to take
these supplements regularly for at least three months to see an improvement.
If you have severe dry eye syndrome and it doesn’t go away with
other treatments, your doctor may recommend surgery. The drainage holes at the
inner corners of your eyes may be permanently plugged to allow your eyes to
maintain an adequate amount of tears.
If you tend to have dry eyes, use a humidifier to increase
moisture in the room and avoid dry climates. Limit your contact lens wear and
the time you spend in front of the computer or television.
Dry eye syndrome usually doesn’t permanently affect your vision. You
can considerably decrease your discomfort with treatment. In rare cases, eye
infections and ulcers can occur and will need to be treated separately.