Dry Eye Syndrome: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

What is Dry Eye Syndrome?

Dry Eye Syndrome is a common issue of the tear film that is usually characterized by the eyes not being able to make enough tears (or the tears evaporating too quickly). It affects a large number of the population and is more common in women than in men, especially those over 40 years. It is not usually serious, however may be uncomfortable.

Other names for Dry Eye Syndrome are ocular surface disease, keratoconjunctivitis, evaporative tear deficiency and aqueous tear deficiency.

Causes of Dry Eye Syndrome

A single reason can hardly be found to be the cause of Dry Eye Syndrome, but the main cause of this condition is as a result of a disruption in the tear production process. This can be triggered by one or more of the following reasons:

  • Dust or heat
  • Hormonal changes in women, like during menopause
  • Regularly wearing contact lenses
  • May be caused by certain medications such as antidepressants, antihistamines or diuretics
  • Ageing
  • High altitudes
  • Laser eye surgery
  • Some medical conditions like blepharitis, allergic conjunctivitis, contact dermatitis, rheumatoid arthritis, previous trauma to the eye caused by burns or exposure to radiation, Bell’s palsy and HIV.

Symptoms of Dry Eye Syndrome

It’s time to see your optometrist if you’ve noticed any of these signs in your eyes for a prolonged period:

  • Persistent dryness
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Eye fatigue or blurred vision
  • Red, itchy eyes
  • Burning sensation
  • Feeling as if there is something in your eyes
  • Inability to cry like you used to when emotionally stressed
  • Discomfort when wearing contact lenses
  • Difficulty in reading, working on the computer or any other activity that requires your visual attention for a long period
  • As odd as it may seem, watery eyes can be one of the symptoms as the eye’s surface will sometimes over stimulate production of the watery component of your tears as a protective mechanism.

Treatment of Dry Eye Syndrome

Depending on the cause, Dry Eye Syndrome may not be completely curable, but the itchiness, dryness and burning sensation can be managed.

The first thing to consider is whether there is anything that could be changed, such as your medication. That will be determined by your doctor if it is realized that that is the major cause. You could also limit or totally stop constant exposure to dust or heat. Also, wear sunglasses when outdoors to protect your eyes from sunlight, wind and dust. If it is caused by an underlying illness, your doctor may prescribe the correct medication for it or may direct you to a specialist.

To combat the dryness, redness and itchiness, your optometrist may offer a range of drops, gels and ointments. Artificial tears, which are eye drops that always keep your eyes moisturized and help calm the dryness and itchy feeling, is often prescribed. Your optometrist may prescribe other treatments which include:

  • Prescription eye drops
  • Changing to the type of contact lenses you wear
  • An omega-3 fatty acid supplement   

If you wear soft contact lenses, you may also need to use a lubricant that is preservative-free, as preservatives attached to the contact lenses can damage the eye.

If your dry eyes are severe and fail to respond to other forms of treatment, surgery may be the last resort. However this is extremely rare.



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