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Dry Eye Syndrome: Causes, Symptoms & Treatments

Dry eye syndrome is a condition that occurs when your tears aren't able to provide adequate lubrication for your eyes. This can happen for a variety of reasons, from not producing enough tears to producing poor-quality tears.
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Tear instability can lead to inflammation and damage to the eye’s surface, making your eyes feel uncomfortable and sometimes causing significant vision problems.¬†

Causes of Dry Eye Syndrome

Understanding the causes of dry eye syndrome is essential for effective management and treatment. 

Decreased tear production

One of the primary dry eye causes is decreased tear production. As you age, your body may produce fewer tears. 

Certain medical conditions, such as Sjogren’s syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and thyroid disorders, can also reduce tear production.¬†

Medications, including antihistamines, antidepressants, and hormone replacement therapy, may contribute to this condition. 

Additionally, procedures like laser eye surgery can temporarily decrease tear production.

Increased tear evaporation

Increased tear evaporation is another significant factor among dry eye causes. The oil film produced by the meibomian glands on the edge of your eyelids helps prevent tears from evaporating too quickly. 

When these glands are clogged or dysfunctional, it leads to rapid tear evaporation. Environmental factors such as wind, smoke, and dry air can exacerbate this issue. 

Additionally, eyelid problems, allergies, and a diet low in vitamin A can also increase tear evaporation.

Symptoms of dry eye syndrome

Dry eye syndrome can manifest in various ways, often affecting both eyes. Common symptoms include a stinging, burning, or scratchy sensation in your eyes. 

You might notice stringy mucus in or around your eyes, sensitivity to light, and redness. It often feels like there is something in your eye, and you may have difficulty wearing contact lenses or driving at night. 

Surprisingly, watery eyes are also a symptom, as your body tries to compensate for the dryness. Blurred vision and eye fatigue are other common issues.

Preventing dry eye syndrome

Preventing dry eye involves identifying and avoiding triggers, maintaining a healthy diet, and managing underlying conditions. Regular eye check-ups are essential. 

Your doctor can monitor your eye health and suggest preventive measures tailored to your specific needs.

Environmental and lifestyle changes can also help. For instance, if you use a computer daily, make sure to take frequent breaks and blink often to keep your eyes lubricated. 

Avoiding cigarette smoke and adding a humidifier to your living space can reduce the likelihood of developing dry eye symptoms. Protective eyewear can shield your eyes from environmental factors that might exacerbate dryness.

Diagnosing dry eye syndrome

Diagnosing dry eye syndrome involves a comprehensive eye exam. Your healthcare provider will take a detailed history of your overall health and eye health. 

They may use tests to measure your tear production and quality. For instance, the Schirmer test measures tear production using blotting strips placed under your lower eyelids. 

Another test, the tear breakup time (TBUT) test, checks how quickly your tears evaporate.

Treating dry eye syndrome

Treating dry eye involves a combination of lifestyle changes, medications, and procedures. The goal is to alleviate symptoms, improve tear quality, and address underlying causes.

Lifestyle and home remedies

Making simple lifestyle adjustments can provide significant dry eye relief. Avoiding environmental triggers is crucial. Try to stay away from cigarette smoke, air vents blowing towards your face, and dry, windy conditions. 

Using a humidifier can add moisture to the air in your home, which is especially helpful during the winter months.

Protective eyewear, such as wraparound glasses, can shield your eyes from the wind and dry air. Taking regular breaks when reading or using a computer helps, too. 

Following the 20/20/20 rule‚ÄĒtaking a 20-second break to look at something 20 feet away every 20 minutes‚ÄĒcan reduce eye strain and promote tear production.

Artificial tears are an essential part of managing dry eye. These over-the-counter eye drops help lubricate and soothe your eyes temporarily. However, they don’t treat the underlying cause.¬†

For more severe cases, ointments can be used at night to keep your eyes lubricated while you sleep.


If lifestyle changes and over-the-counter products aren’t enough to provide dry eye relief, your doctor might recommend prescription medications.¬†

Cyclosporine A eye drops (Restasis¬ģ) are used to treat inflammation in the tear glands, helping them produce more and better-quality tears.¬†

Lifitegrast (Xiidra¬ģ) is another option that targets both the signs and symptoms of dry eye disease by reducing inflammation.¬†

For those with severe symptoms, autologous serum drops may be recommended. These are custom-made from your own blood serum and can be highly effective, though they can be expensive and are not always covered by insurance. 

Additionally, Varenicline (Tyrvaya¬ģ), a nasal spray, can increase tear production by stimulating the trigeminal nerve.


In some cases, procedures may be necessary for treating dry eye. Punctal occlusion is a common treatment where tiny plugs are inserted into the tear ducts to prevent tears from draining away too quickly. This can be done temporarily or permanently, depending on your needs.

Thermal pulsation therapy (Lipiflow¬ģ) and intense pulsed light (IPL) therapy are other options. These procedures help clear blocked meibomian glands, allowing them to function properly and produce the necessary oils for your tear film.¬†

Therapeutic contact lenses, such as soft bandage lenses or rigid scleral lenses, can protect and lubricate the surface of your eye, providing significant relief.

When to see a doctor

If you experience prolonged symptoms of dry eye, such as red, irritated, tired, or painful eyes, it’s essential to see a healthcare provider.¬†

They can determine the underlying cause of your symptoms and recommend appropriate treatments. Regular follow-up appointments are important to monitor your condition and adjust treatments as needed.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to your provider if your symptoms worsen or if you experience new side effects from treatments. Effective communication with your healthcare team is key to managing dry eye syndrome successfully.

Final word

Dry eye syndrome is a common yet often overlooked condition that can significantly impact your quality of life. Understanding the causes, symptoms, and available treatments is crucial for finding relief. 

Whether through lifestyle changes, over-the-counter products, prescription medications, or medical procedures, there are many ways to manage dry eye effectively. 

Remember to consult with your healthcare provider to tailor a treatment plan that best suits your needs and to stay informed about the latest advances in treating dry eye. By taking proactive steps, you can reduce the discomfort of dry eye and maintain the health of your eyes.

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