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What is Dry Eye Syndrome ?

Dry eye syndrome refers to a condition caused to diminished levels of moisture provided by the tears for the eyes. There are several reasons for the occurrence of dry eye syndrome, ranging from decreased amounts of tears to the presence of poor-quality tears.

Dry eye syndrome can cause discomfort of the eyes. It can lead to development of sting sensations or burning of the eyes. Individuals may develop dry eyes in certain environments such as an air-conditioned room, an airplane or when one person spends many hours staring at a computer screen.

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Treatment for dry eye syndrome is aimed at reducing the discomfort levels. The use of eye drops and certain lifestyle changes can alleviate the symptoms of dry eye syndrome. Surgery is used as the last option for severe cases of the disorder.

Symptoms of Dry Eye Syndrome

Dry eye syndrome generally tends to affect both the eyes and may result in following signs and symptoms:

  • Presence of a burning, throbbing or itchy sensation in the eyes
  • Exposure to wind or smoke may result in increased irritation of the eyes
  • The vision may be blurred which may deteriorate after concentrating for excessive periods or at the end of a tiring day
  • Presence of fibrous mucus in or around the eyes
  • Even short durations of reading activity can result in fatigued eyes
  • Problems while wearing contact lenses
  • Increased sensitivity to light
  • Periods of increasing tearing may be present

Causes of dry eye syndrome

Dry eye syndrome is caused due to diminished quantities of tears. The tears are a complex combination of fatty oils, electrolytes, water and proteins. Such a mixture aids in making the eye surfaces clear and smooth and also gives the essential protection to the eyes from infection

In some individuals affected by dry eye syndrome, the cause is a disturbance in the balance of tear composition. Some other affected individuals may not be capable of manufacturing sufficient quantities of tears to facilitate comfortable lubrication of the eyes. Medications, environmental deficiencies and defects, eyelid defects and certain other causes may also result in the development of dry eye syndrome.

  • Diminished tear production: Decreased production of tears by the eyes can result in dry eye syndrome. The eyes may not produce enough tears in the following cases:
    • When one grows older, the tear production drops. An increased age of 50 years and over increases the risk to diminished tear production.
    • The presence of underlying medical conditions such as thyroid disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren’s syndrome, diabetes, vitamin A deficiency and scleroderma also increases the risk
    • Hormonal changes caused due to menopause increase the risk to decreased tear production and developing dry eye syndrome
    • Damage of the tear glands due to radiation exposure or inflammation also disrupt tear production
    • Laser surgery to correct eye refractive abnormities can also result in temporary decrease of tear production
    • Poor tear quality: The tear coat is made up of 3 layers, i.e. oil, mucus and water. Abnormalities of any of these components can result in the formation of dry eye syndrome.
      • Small glands present on the periphery of the eyelids called meibomian glands have fatty oils known as lipids. These glands play an important role in the health of the outermost part of the tear film. The lipids decrease the evaporation of the middle layer of water and also smooth the tear surface. When the glands produce insufficient amounts of oil, it causes rapid evaporation of the watery layer, thereby facilitating the development of dry eye syndrome. Individuals with underlying disorders such as rosacea, blepharitis and other skin conditions are prone to develop dysfunction of the meibomian glands
      • Mucus facilitates the even spread of tears across the surface if the eyes. Presence of insufficient quantities of mucus can result in the development of dry spots on the eye surface, increasing the risk to dry eye syndrome
      • The middle layer of the tear film is mostly composed of water and some salt. The lacrimal glands or the tear glands produce this layer which clears away the foreign materials and irritants and cleans the eyes. Diminished amounts of water production can result in decreased distance between the oil and mucus layers causing a fibrous discharge.
      • Problems of the eyelids which prevent them from continuously blinking, thereby leading to decreased spread of tears across the eye surface also increase the risk to developing dry eye syndrome
      • Medications such as some antidepressants, decongestants and antihistamines, diuretics and anti-hypertension drugs, certain painkillers and oral contraceptives increase the risk to developing dry eye syndrome

Dry eye syndrome treatment

  • Mild cases of dry eye syndrome can be treated via home remedies and eye drops. Severe cases of dry eye syndrome may require medical assistance including treatment of the underlying conditions that cause dry eye syndrome.
  • Medications such as antibiotics to ease eye inflammation, eye inserts that function like artificial tears, prescription eye drops to control inflammation of cornea, etc. may be recommended
  • The use of special contact lens to trap the moisture and thus protect the eyes from environmental causes of tear loss
  • Closure of tear ducts to reduce loss of tears and other surgical options can be used to treat dry eye syndrome.
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