Dry eye syndrome (DES) is a persistent condition that arises when the eyes fail to generate and maintain an adequate supply of tears, leading to varying symptoms from person to person. This deficiency can result from reduced tear production or increased evaporation due to a lack of lipids from the oil glands in the eyelids. The effects can range from mild dryness and discomfort to pain, blurred vision, and recurrent infections.
**Symptoms of Dry Eye Disease:**
- Dry, itchy eyes
- Burning or stinging sensations
- Watery eyes
- Blurred vision
- Sensation of a foreign body
Tears play a vital role in preserving the corneal health by rinsing away foreign matter, maintaining moisture, and ensuring a clear eye surface. They also contain enzymes that protect against bacterial infections. Dry eyes develop when tear production is insufficient to sustain the eye’s moisture balance, causing sensations of scratchiness, persistent dryness, stinging, and the feeling of a foreign object. Ironically, in an effort to combat the condition, dry eyes may lead to excessive tear production, resulting in watery eyes for some individuals.
**Causes of Dry Eye Disease:**
Dry eyes can occur naturally due to aging or hormonal changes, especially in women undergoing pregnancy, oral contraceptive use, or menopause. Women over 50 face a 50% higher risk of dry eye disease compared to men of the same age. Medications such as antihistamines, blood pressure drugs, and antidepressants can reduce tear production. Environmental factors, like dry, dusty, and windy climates, contribute to dry eyes. Air conditioners, heating systems, and prolonged screen time without blinking can exacerbate symptoms. Certain medical conditions (diabetes, blepharitis, lupus, arthritis, thyroid problems), eye surgeries (e.g., LASIK), improper eyelid closure, and extended use of contact lenses can also trigger dry eyes.
**Diagnosis of Dry Eye Disease:**
Dry eye disease is typically diagnosed through a comprehensive eye exam and a description of symptoms. Additional tests, such as the Tear Break Up Time (TBUT) or Schirmer test, may be performed to assess tear quality and quantity.
**Treatment for Dry Eyes:**
Treatment options vary based on the cause and severity. Mild cases can often be managed with artificial tears or lubricant eye drops. Prescription drops that stimulate tear production or short-term steroid use may be recommended for more severe cases. Punctal inserts or plugs, heat compress masks, eyelid scrubs, and antibiotic ointments address specific factors contributing to dry eyes.
**Preventing Dry Eyes:**
Preventive measures include avoiding dry environments, protecting eyes from environmental elements, using humidifiers, purposeful blinking during screen use, avoiding eye rubbing, and staying hydrated.
While dry eye disease doesn’t lead to permanent vision impairment, proactive and consistent treatment is essential for sustained relief. Optometrists collaborate with patients to create long-term strategies for optimal eye comfort.