Dry eye syndrome occurs when the tear glands do not produce enough tears, causing your eyes to feel itchy, scratchy, and irritated. It is more common in older adults and in those with autoimmune diseases, such as arthritis. Wearing contact lenses and smoking cigarettes may increase your risk for dry eye syndrome. Dry eyes also may be caused by certain medications, such as diuretics, antihistamines, decongestants, and antidepressants.
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.
Dry eyes occur when your tears aren't able to provide adequate moisture for your eyes. Tears can be inadequate for many reasons. For example, dry eyes may occur if you don't produce enough tears or if you produce poor-quality tears. Dry eyes feel uncomfortable. If you have dry eyes, your eyes may sting or burn. You may experience dry eyes in certain situations, such as on an airplane, in an air-conditioned room, while riding a bike, or after looking at a computer screen for a few hours. Treatments for dry eyes may make you more comfortable. These treatments can include lifestyle changes and eyedrops. For more-serious cases of dry eyes, surgery may be an option.
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
- Increased eye irritation from smoke or wind
- Eye fatigue
- Sensitivity to light
- Eye redness
- A sensation of having something in your eyes
- Difficulty wearing contact lenses
- Periods of excessive tearing
- Blurred vision, often worsening at the end of the day or after focusing for a prolonged period
For most people with occasional or mild dry eyes symptoms, treatment involves over-the-counter eyedrops, such as artificial tears, and other home remedies. It's best to avoid eyedrops that reduce redness, however. If your dry eyes symptoms are persistent and more serious, your treatment options will depend on what's causing your dry eyes. Some conditions that cause dry eyes can be reversed or managed. Other treatments can improve your tear quality or stop your tears from quickly draining away from your eyes.
In some cases, treating an underlying health issue can help reverse dry eyes. For instance, if a medication is causing your dry eyes, your doctor may recommend a different medication that doesn't cause that side effect. If you have an eyelid condition, such as an anatomic abnormality or a condition that makes it difficult to close your eye completely when you blink, your doctor may refer you to an eye surgeon who specializes in plastic surgery of the eyelids. If your signs and symptoms suggest an autoimmune condition, such as rheumatoid arthritis or Sjogren's syndrome, your doctor may refer you to a rheumatologist for evaluation.