Dry eye syndrome
You need tears to moisten the eyes and to wash away particles that have gotten into your eyes. A healthy tear film on the eye is necessary for good vision.
Dry eyes develop when the eye is unable to maintain a healthy coating of tears.
Keratitis sicca; Xerophthalmia; Keratoconjunctivitis sicca
Dry eye commonly occurs in people who are otherwise healthy. It becomes more common with age. This can occur due to hormonal changes that make your eyes produce fewer tears.
Other common causes of dry eyes include:
Dry eye can also be caused by:
Symptoms may include:
Exams and Tests
Tests may include:
The first step in treatment is artificial tears. These come as preserved (screw cap bottle) and unpreserved (twist open vial). Preserved tears are more convenient, but some people are sensitive to preservatives. There are many brands available without a prescription.
Start using the drops at least 2 to 4 times per day. If your symptoms are not better after a couple of weeks of regular use:
Other treatments may include:
Other helpful steps include:
Some dry eye symptoms are due to sleeping with the eyes slightly open. Lubricating ointments work best for this problem. You should use them only in small amounts since they can blur your vision. It is best to use them before sleep.
Surgery may be helpful if symptoms are because the eyelids are in an abnormal position.
Most people with dry eye have only discomfort, and no vision loss.
In severe cases, the clear covering on the eye (cornea) may become damaged or infected.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your provider right away if:
Stay away from dry environments and things that irritate your eyes to help prevent symptoms.
Bohm KJ, Djalilian AR, Pflugfelder SC, Starr CE. Dry eye. In: Mannis MJ, Holland EJ, eds. Cornea. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 33.
Dorsch JN. Dry eye syndrome. In: Kellerman RD, Rakel DP, eds. Conn's Current Therapy 2019. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:475-477.
Goldstein MH, Rao NK. Dry eye disease. In: Yanoff M, Duker JS, eds. Ophthalmology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 4.23.
Review Date: 9/30/2018
Reviewed By: Audrey Tai, DO, MS, Assistant Clinical Professor (Voluntary), University of California - Irvine, Irvine, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.