Dry Eye Syndrome
Dry eye syndrome or keratitis sicca, is an eye disease caused by eye dryness, which, in turn, is caused by either decreased tear production or increased tear film evaporation. Dry eye is the most common eye disease, affecting 5 - 6% of the population. Prevalence rises to 6 - 9.8% in postmenopausal women, and as high as 34% in the elderly. The phrase "keratoconjunctivitis sicca" is Latin, and its translation is "dry [inflammation] of the cornea and conjunctiva".
The eye depends on the flow of tears to provide constant moisture and lubrication to maintain vision and comfort. Tears are a combination of water, for moisture; oils, for lubrication; mucus, for even spreading; and antibodies and special proteins, for resistance to infection. These components are secreted by special glands located around the eye. When there is an imbalance in this tear system, a person may experience dry eyes.
Signs and symptoms, which usually affect both eyes, may include:
- A stinging, burning or scratchy sensation in your eyes
- Stringy mucus in or around your eyes
- Sensitivity to light
- Eye redness
- A sensation of having something in your eyes
- Difficulty wearing contact lenses
- Difficulty with nighttime driving
- Watery eyes, which is the body's response to the irritation of dry eyes
- Blurred vision or eye fatigue
Though dry eyes cannot be cured, there are a number of steps that can be taken to treat them. You should discuss treatment options with an eye care specialist. Treatments for dry eyes may include:
- Artificial tear drops and ointments. The use of artificial teardrops is the primary treatment for dry eye. Artificial teardrops are available over the counter. No one drop works for everyone, so you might have to experiment to find the drop that works for you. If you have chronic dry eye, it is important to use the drops even when your eyes feel fine, to keep them lubricated. If your eyes dry out while you sleep, you can use a thicker lubricant, such as an ointment, at night.
- Punctal plugs increase the tear level by blocking the “drainpipe” through which tears normally exit the eye and enter the nose. The plugs can be easily removed. Rarely, the plugs may come out spontaneously or migrate down the tear drain. Many patients with particularly bothersome dry eyes find that the plugs improve comfort and reduce the need for artificial tears.
- Restasis. The FDA approved the prescription eye drop Restasis for the treatment of chronic dry eye. It is currently the only prescription eye drop that helps your eyes increase their own tear production with continued use.
- Other medications and nutrition. Other medications, including steroid eyedrops, can be used for short periods of time as an adjunct to other long-term measures. There is growing evidence that increasing the oral intake of fish oil and omega-3 via diet or supplement is very helpful to those suffering with dry eye.
Sources: The Mayo Clinic, WebMD