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Dry Eye Syndrome

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Updated September 04, 2013

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 weaken 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 vary from person to person. The most common symptoms include...

  • 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:

Causes of dry eye syndrome include:

  • 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 lenses -- Contact lenses tend to absorb the tearfilm.

  • Environment -- Dry, windy climates, air-conditioning and cigarette smoke sometimes cause dry eyes.

  • Chemical eye burns

  • Computer use -- Forgetting to blink while using the computer can cause dryness.

Diagnosis of Dry Eye Syndrome:

An eye doctor may perform a few quick tests to determine if you are suffering from dry eye syndrome:

  • 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.

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:

  • Eye drops -- Eye drops lubricate the eye, relieving many of the symptoms of dry eyes. Eye drops may be prescribed by your doctor if needed.

  • Punctal plugs -- Your eye doctor can insert silicone plugs into the tear ducts, preventing tears from draining out. This allows tears to lubricate the surface longer.

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.

Source: American Optometric Association. Dry Eye. 08 Aug 2007.

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