Dry Eye Syndrome

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Topic Overview

What is dry eye syndrome?

Dry eye syndrome is a problem involving your tears.

Your eyes need tears to stay clean and healthy. Tears are made by glands behind your upper eyelid. Every time you blink, the tears are pushed across your eye, keeping it moist. They flow into tiny openings, called tear ducts , in the inner corners of your eyelids, where they drain away.

With dry eye syndrome, your tear glands don't make enough tears or your tears evaporate too fast.

This problem is more common in older adults and in those with certain diseases, such as diabetes , allergic conjunctivitis , or Sjögren's syndrome .

Dry eye syndrome may go away with treatment. But for some people, it can be a lifetime problem.

What causes dry eye syndrome?

Dry eyes can be caused by everyday things, like being outdoors in the wind and sun, staring at a computer screen, or just being tired. Being around cigarette smoke may also cause dry eyes.

Other possible causes include:

  • Certain medicines, such as antihistamines and some antidepressants.
  • Wearing contact lenses for too many hours at a time.
  • Certain eye surgeries, such as LASIK.

For many people, it's just part of getting older.

What are the symptoms?

When your eyes are too dry, they feel itchy, scratchy, and irritated.

How are dry eyes diagnosed?

An eye doctor can usually tell that you have dry eye syndrome during a regular exam and hearing about your symptoms.

In some cases, you may have a special test to see if your eyes are making enough tears.

How is it treated?

To help soothe your dry eyes, you can try artificial-tear eyedrops or ointments that you can buy over the counter. Don't use eyedrops that are meant to treat red, bloodshot eyes. Those might make your eyes feel worse.

You can also try to blink a lot, especially if you spend a lot of time staring at a computer screen.

Limit your time in air-conditioned or heated rooms. Try a humidifier in rooms where you spend a lot of time. Wearing sunglasses can help protect your eyes from wind and sun.

See an eye doctor, either an optometrist or an ophthalmologist , if your symptoms don't get better. You may need treatment, because too much dryness can damage your eyes.

Treatments that your eye doctor may want to try include:

  • Prescription ointments or eyedrops, such as cyclosporine (Restasis). You will need to use this medicine every day for a long time. It's important to find out how much the medicine will cost you. Some people need to take it for years. Studies have not shown how well it works over the long term.
  • Tear duct plugs. The doctor puts tiny plugs in the openings of your tear ducts . This helps keep your tears from draining out. The plugs can fall out and need to be put in again. Again, it's important to find out how much this will cost you.

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Other Works Consulted

  • American Academy of Ophthalmology/External Disease Panel (2013). Dry Eye Syndrome Preferred Practice Pattern. San Francisco: American Academy of Ophthalmology. Also available online: http://one.aao.org/preferred-practice-pattern/dry-eye-syndrome-ppp--2013. Accessed August 1, 2014.
  • American Optometric Association (2010). Care of the Patient With Ocular Surface Disorders. Optometric Clinical Practice Guideline. Available online: http://www.guideline.gov/content.aspx?id=33585.
  • Drugs for some common eye disorders (2012). Treatment Guidelines From The Medical Letter, 10(123): 79–86.
  • Ervin AM, et al. (2010). Punctal occlusion for dry eye syndrome. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (9).


ByHealthwise Staff

Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine

Specialist Medical Reviewer Christopher J. Rudnisky, MD, MPH, FRCSC - Ophthalmology

Current as ofAugust 21, 2015