Dry eye syndrome

Definition

You need tears to moisten the eyes and to wash away particles that have gotten into your eyes. A healthy tear film on the eye is necessary for good vision.

Dry eyes develop when the eye is unable to maintain a healthy coating of tears.

Causes

Dry eye commonly occurs in people who are otherwise healthy. It becomes more common with age. This can occur due to hormonal changes that make your eyes produce fewer tears.

Other common causes of dry eyes include:

Dry eye can also be caused by:

Symptoms

Symptoms may include:

Exams and Tests

Tests may include:

Treatment

The first step in treatment is artificial tears. These come as preserved (screw cap bottle) and unpreserved (twist open vial). Preserved tears are more convenient, but some people are sensitive to preservatives. There are many brands available without a prescription.

Start using the drops at least 2 to 4 times per day. If your symptoms are not better after a couple of weeks of regular use:

Other treatments may include:

Other helpful steps include:

Some dry eye symptoms are due to sleeping with the eyes slightly open. Lubricating ointments work best for this problem. You should use them only in small amounts since they can blur your vision. It is best to use them before sleep.

Surgery may be helpful if symptoms are because the eyelids are in an abnormal position.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Most people with dry eye have only discomfort, and no vision loss.

Possible Complications

In severe cases, the clear covering on the eye (cornea) may become damaged or infected.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your provider right away if:

Prevention

Stay away from dry environments and things that irritate your eyes to help prevent symptoms.


Review Date: 9/30/2018
Reviewed By: Audrey Tai, DO, MS, Assistant Clinical Professor (Voluntary), University of California - Irvine, Irvine, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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