What is Dry Eye?

Our natural tears protect our eyes and give them moisture that is absolutely necessary for clear and comfortable vision. People suffering from Dry Eye either produce too few tears or their tears evaporate too quickly, causing discomfort and possible damage to the eye’s surface. The irritation and discomfort that result may impact one’s ability to see. In rare cases, Dry Eye can become serious – even blinding – without proper care and treatment.

What causes Dry Eye?

Tear production normally decreases as we age. Although Dry Eye can occur in both men and women at any age, women are most often affected, especially after menopause. Dry Eye also can be associated with arthritis and accompanied by a dry mouth. People with dry eyes, dry mouth and arthritis have Sjogren’s syndrome. Many common medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, can cause Dry Eye by reducing tear secretion. Be sure to tell your doctor the names of all the medications you’re taking, especially if you are using diuretics, beta blockers, antihistamines, sleeping pills, antidepressants or pain relievers.

Symptoms of Dry Eye

Common Symptoms of Dry eye include any of the following:

  • Stinging or burning eyes
  • Feeling of scratchiness or like something is in the eye
  • Excess tearing following very dry eyes
  • Stringy discharge from the eye
  • Uncomfortable contact lenses
  • Eye fatigue

How is Dry Eye treated?

There is no cure for Dry Eye and, so far, only the symptoms can be treated. Eye drops called artificial tears are similar to your own tears. Available without a prescription, they lubricate the eyes and help maintain moisture. You can use the tears as often as necessary. Ointments often are used before bedtime to make sure there is enough wetness throughout the night.

Conserving your eyes’ own tears is another approach to keeping the eyes moist. Tears drain off of the eye through a small channel into the nose, which is why your nose runs when you cry. Your eye doctor may close these channels either temporarily or permanently. The closure conserves your own tears and makes artificial tears last longer.

Anything that may cause dryness, such as an overly warm room, hair dryers or wind, can aggravate dry eye. Smoking is especially bothersome. In winter, when indoor heat is on, a humidifier or a pan of water on the radiator adds moisture to dry air.

To learn more: Facts about Dry Eye from the National Eye Institute