Research shows that nearly 80 million Americans suffer from dry eye syndrome. Women are one and a half to three times more likely than men to suffer from this condition.

Most cases develop after menopause, but women who are pregnant, lactating or taking oral contraceptives also have an increased incidence of dry eye due to hormonal changes.

Dry eye occurs when the eye does not produce adequate tears, or tears evaporate too quickly because they are not the proper consistency. Other causes of dry eye can include aging, medications, medical conditions, environmental factors and surgeries such as LASIK.

What are the symptoms of dry eye?

  • Burning or stinging of the eye or eyelids
  • A gritty or sandy feeling in the eye
  • Watery eyes, which is the body’s response to the irritation
  • Stringy mucus or discharge from the eye
  • Eye redness or pain
  • Blurred vision or eye fatigue
  • Uncomfortable contact lenses
  • Heavy eyelids
  • Decreased tolerance for reading or computer work or other visually attentive tasks

Dry eye is diagnosed during a comprehensive eye examination. Your eye doctor will discuss your symptoms and take note of any health conditions, medications or environmental factors that may be contributing to the problem. Tear testing may include external examination of the eye focusing on the eyelid and blinking, measurement of the tears using paper blotting strips or instilling eye drops with dye to evaluate quality of tears.

Dry eye can be a chronic condition, but working with your optometrist can help keep your eyes healthy and comfortable. Mild dry eye can be treated with over-the-counter artificial tear drops used as often as needed. If used frequently, preservative-free formulas are recommended, because they contain fewer additives to cause eye irritation. Supplements like omega-3 essential fatty acids can also help to improve the quality of the tears and reduce irritation.

If other therapy/treatment doesn’t work, your doctor may recommend conserving natural tears by blocking the ducts where the tears drain. Tiny plugs made of silicone or a gel-like substance can be inserted into the tear ducts to keep tears in the eye longer. These are called punctal plugs and silicone varieties can remain in place to provide relief. Prescription eye drops may also be recommended to help the body produce more of its own tears. When dry eye is caused from inflammation of the eye or eyelids, other prescription drops or ointments such as antibiotics or anti-inflammatories may be needed.

Whatever treatment is prescribed to you, it is important to follow the doctor’s instructions carefully. Dry eye may never go away completely, but the goal is to keep your eyes healthy and comfortable to maintain good vision.