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It is important to remember that dry eye is not just a minor discomfort. Dry eye is a serious, progressive condition that can potentially lead to serious vision problems. The key to improve this condition and to avoid damage to the eyes is to recognize the symptoms of dry eye and to seek treatment for it. Many people never mention their dry eye symptoms to their doctor. There are several effective treatments available for dry eye patients. Doctors can help patients relieve or improve their dry eye symptoms. Ask your eye care professional about your options.

Tear Ducts

The continuous production and drainage of tears is important to the eye's health. Tears keep the eye moist, help wounds heal, and protect against eye infection. In people with dry eye, the eye produces fewer or lower quality tears and cannot keep its surface lubricated and comfortable.

The tear film consists of three layers: an outer, oily (lipid) layer that keeps tears from evaporating too quickly and helps tears remain on the eye; a middle (aqueous) layer that nourishes the cornea and conjunctiva; and a bottom (mucin) layer that helps to spread the aqueous layer across the eye to ensure that the eye remains wet. As we age, the eyes usually produce fewer tears. Also, in some cases, the lipid and mucin layers produced by the eye are of such poor quality that tears cannot remain in the eye long enough to keep the eye sufficiently lubricated.

Symptoms

The main symptom of dry eye is usually a scratchy or sandy feeling as if something is in the eye. Other symptoms may include the following:

  • Stinging or burning of the eye
  • Episodes of excess tearing that follow periods of very dry sensation
  • Stringy discharge from the eye
  • Pain and redness of the eye

Sometimes people with dry eye experience heaviness of the eyelids or blurred, changing, or decreased vision, although loss of vision is uncommon.

Causes

Dry eye can occur in climates with dry air, as well as with the use of some drugs, including antihistamines, nasal decongestants, tranquilizers, and anti-depressant drugs. People with dry eye should let their health care providers know all the medications they are taking, since some of them may intensify dry eye symptoms.

People with connective tissue diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, can also develop dry eye. It is important to note that dry eye is sometimes a symptom of Sjögren's syndrome, a disease that attacks the body's lubricating glands, such as the tear and salivary glands. A complete physical examination may diagnose any underlying diseases.

Treatment

Your doctor may recommend one or more of the following treatments:

  • Artificial tears, which can lubricate the eye; they are the principal treatment for dry eye and available over-the-counter as eye drops.
  • Sterile ointments, which are sometimes used at night to help prevent the eye from drying.
  • Using a humidifier
  • Wearing wrap-around glasses when outside
  • Avoiding outside windy and dry condition;
  • Temporary or permanent closure of the tear drain (small openings at the inner corner of the eyelids where tears drain from the eye), for people with severe cases of dry eye

Other Facts About Dry Eye

Dry eye is more common in women, especially after menopause. Surprisingly, some people with dry eye may have tears that run down their cheeks. This is because the eye may be producing less of the lipid and mucin layers of the tear film, which help keep tears in the eye. When this happens, tears do not stay in the eye long enough to thoroughly moisten it.