Dry Eye Symptoms

Many people experience occasional dry eyes from weather-related causes, allergies, contact lenses or other factors. However, some people develop chronic dry eye disease. This is referred to as dry eye syndrome, dysfunctional tear syndrome or keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS).

Dry eye syndrome refers to a group of disorders affecting the tear film. The tear film is comprised of the thin layer of tears that covers the surface of the eye, which is continuously being replaced. During blinking, this film is evenly spread over the surface of the eye, keeping it moist and helping to maintain clear vision while fighting infection.
Dry eye syndrome occurs due to reduced tear production, poor quality tears or excessive tear evaporation. Dry eye syndrome can cause eye discomfort and poor vision, as well as lead to other diseases of the eye surface.
The most common cause is tear glands not producing enough tears. Another common cause is a deficiency in oil secretion from the meibomian glands or with mucin secretion from the goblet cells. Furthermore, tear quality can be poor in chronically dry eyes and contain more inflammatory chemicals and salts that can actually further irritate the eye and worsen the dryness. Any eye surgery, including LASIK and cataract surgery, can make the eye more dry. Situational dryness can occur under certain circumstances, including long periods of computer work or reading, sitting or sleeping under a ceiling fan and being in windy environments.
Common symptoms of dry eye disease include burning sensation in the eyes, foreign body sensation (the feeling that something is in your eye), watery eyes, red eyes, blurred vision, eye fatigue and contact lens discomfort. These symptoms can worsen with prolonged staring (reading, watching TV, working on a computer, driving), windy environments, indoor heating or drafts from nearby air conditioning vents.
Risk Factors
Many conditions can increase a person’s risk for dry eye disease. Common risk factors include increased age, female gender, postmenopause, Sjogren’s syndrome (a chronic autoimmune disorder in which white blood cells attack the glands that produce tears and saliva), autoimmune conditions (such as rheumatoid arthritis), chronic use of certain medicines (such as antihistamines, antidepressants, diuretics), blepharitis (inflammation of the eyelid) and rosacea.
An eye exam is necessary to determine the factors behind an individual’s dry eye problems. Tests can be done using a patient’s tears to determine how quickly the tear film breaks apart between blinks, and to measure the volume of tear production. Physicians at the Houston Methodist Department of Ophthalmology will discuss questions, concerns and diagnoses with you. Sometimes a full medical exam is recommended with your general doctor to help discover conditions that may be affecting the health of your eyes.
  • In many cases, dry eye disease can worsen if not treated adequately. You can prevent developing dry eye symptoms, for example, by taking frequent breaks from the computer or reading, avoiding drafts and windy environments and increasing room humidity. The following are medical options for treating dry eye disease.
  • Artificial tears are available over-the-counter. These products include liquids, gels and ointments placed on the eye to alleviate discomfort and provide more moisture.
  • Omega-3 supplements, including flaxseed oil or fish oil, can help treat certain types of dry eye disease, such as those associated with blepharitis.
  • Prescription medicines, or eye drops and other medications, can be used to control the inflammation (and associated discomfort) on the surface of the eye and help increase the production of one’s own tears.
  • Punctal plugs are small, inert inserts placed into the punctum (the opening of the tear drainage system) or in the canaliculus (the tear drainage duct) of the lower or upper eyelid. Plugs cause a backup of tears in your eyes, similar to the buildup of water in a bathtub when the drain is closed shut, therefore making the eye moist and comfortable.
  • Surgical procedures may be of benefit by permanently closing the eyelid puncta or by correcting eyelid problems, thereby preventing the loss of tears. A procedure called meibomian gland probing can also be of benefit to patients suffering from dry eye. To learn more about meibomian gland dysfunction, download a brochure on this procedure.


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