Dry eye syndrome is a common disease in which the eye under-produces tears or tears leave the eye too quickly. A normal functioning eye constantly produces tears to form a tear film, which acts as moisturizer and lubricant. For someone with dry eye, the resulting lack of moisture and lubrication can cause a variety of problems.
*Though it sounds contradictory, sometimes the eye will actually produce excessive tears, and overflow. The eye becomes irritated by the lack of lubrication and attempts to cleanse itself with a flood of tears. This is a similar phenomenon to the tearing that occurs when foreign matter is stuck in one's eye.
- A burning, stinging, or scratchy sensation in the eyes
- Eyes may redden and become easily irritated by wind or smoke
- The eyes may produce stringy mucus
- Contact lenses may be difficult or impossible to wear
- Sometimes the eye will actually produce excessive tears, and overflow*
Dry eye syndrome is typically more common in older people and women; however, there are many other factors that can cause this to happen. A common cause of dry eye can be over the counter and prescription medications such as antihistamines, beta-blockers, sleeping pills, pain relievers and many others. Overuse of diuretics can also play a role in developing dry eye. For this reason, it is very important to inform your ophthalmologist about any medications you are currently taking, which can help the doctor in the proper diagnosis of the disease.
Sometimes the cause is unknown in a case of dry eye. Known causes of dry eye may be natural, related to a larger condition, or the side effect of certain medications. Also, tear production often slows down as people get older. This is particularly common for women after menopause.
- Artificial tears: Mild to moderate cases of dry eye syndrome may be treated by applying artificial tear eye drops as little or as often as necessary. There are a wide range of products available without a prescription that the doctor can recommend.
- Prescription medications: Can sometimes increase tear production for those with chronic dry eye. It does this by targeting inflammation in the eye.
- Conserving tears: An effective way to make better use of the tears in the eye is surgery to close the tear ducts, thus preventing existing tears from leaving the eye as quickly. This may be done temporarily, with punctal plugs made of collagen, or permanently with silicone plugs or by cauterizing the tear ducts closed.
- Controlling one's environment: Patients should avoid situations in which tears evaporate quickly; for example, by using a humidifier in a dry house, wearing wrap-around glasses in the wind, and not smoking.