Dry eye syndrome is a condition in which your eyes do not produce enough tears or the tears do not have the normal chemical makeup.
Normally, your body produces 2 types of tears:
Lubricating tears: which are produced all the time. They help keep your eyes moist and clean and help fight infection. The tear film contains layers of water, mucus, and oil. Dry eye can happen when one or more of these layers is not normal. Most often, the watery layer is too thin.
Reflex tears: which are produced in response to injury, emotions, or irritation, such as from smoke, something in your eye or from chemicals. They may even be produced in response to dry eye, when your eyes lack lubricating tears, so your eyes may be more watery than normal.
What is the cause?
Dry eye may be caused by:
Aging, which causes your eyes to produce fewer tears or tears of poor quality
Reading, driving, or looking at a computer screen, which can cause you to blink less
Medicines such as antihistamines, birth control pills, diuretics, and beta blockers
Lack of vitamin A or omega-3 fatty acids
Diseases such as arthritis, SjÃ¶grenâ€™s syndrome, lupus, leukemia, and Stevens-Johnson syndrome
An eyelid problem that does not allow your eye to close properly
Burns from heat or chemicals
Sometimes the cause of dry eye is not known.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms may include:
A scratchy, gritty, burning feeling in your eyes like when you have something in your eye
Sharp pain in your eyes that lasts only a few seconds
Watery eyes or stringy mucus in your eyes
Matted eyelids that are hard to open in the morning
Blurry vision that goes away when you blink or close your eyes or put lubricating eye drops in your eyes.
How is it diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms, activities, and medical history, and examine your eyes. You may need tests such as:
Schirmer test, which test the amount of tears you make by placing a strip of filtered paper in your eye at the edge of your eyelid
Staining with special eyedrops that help your provider see problems with the surface of your eyes
How is it treated?
There is no cure for dry eye. Treatment can reduce your discomfort and protect your eyes. Using warm, moist cloths on your eyes and cleaning your eyelids regularly may help reduce irritation and help you make better tears.
Usually, your provider will suggest that you use artificial tears eyedrops during the day. You may also need to use lubricant ointments at night. If these products do not help, your provider may recommend other treatments, such as:
Temporary plugs that block the tear drain so that your eye can make full use of the lubricating tears it does produce
Laser treatment or minor surgery to close off the tear drains permanently
Eyedrops such as steroids or cyclosporine to reduce inflammation so your eyes can produce healthy tears
How can I take care of myself?
Follow the full course of treatment your healthcare provider prescribes. Ask your healthcare provider:
How and when you will hear your test results
How long it will take to recover
What activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
How to take care of yourself at home
What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them
Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup.
How can I help prevent dry eyes?
Blink regularly when you read, drive, or look at a computer screen for a long time.
Use a humidifier if you live in a dry climate.
Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from wind and sun.
Drink enough liquids to keep your urine light yellow in color.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth. Last modified: 2014-10-27 Last reviewed: 2014-10-27
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Dry Eye Syndrome: References
American Academy of Ophthalmology. 2013-2014 Basic and Clinical Science Course. San Francisco: American Academy of Ophthalmology, 2013; v.1-13.
Krachmer JH, Mannis MJ and Holland EJ, eds. Cornea, 3rd edition. Philadelphia: Mosby, 2010;v.1-2.
Yanoff M and Duker JS. Ophthalmology, 4th edition. Philadelphia: Mosby, 2013.