Dry Eye Syndrome

Topic Overview

Dry eye syndrome (keratoconjunctivitis sicca) occurs when the tear glands do not make enough tears or when too many tears evaporate from the surface of your eye. This causes 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 may increase your risk for dry eye syndrome. Dry eyes also may be caused by certain medicines, such as antidepressants, antihistamines, and diuretics.

To help soothe your dry eyes, you can try an over-the-counter lubricant eye drop (artificial tears solution), such as Hypo Tears or Systane. Do not use eyedrops that reduce redness (such as Opcon-A) to treat dry eyes. You can also try to blink a lot, limit your time in air-conditioned or heated rooms, and use a humidifier in rooms where you spend a lot of time.

If you've used artificial tears for a few days and they don't seem to be helping, call your doctor. Excessive dryness can damage your eyes. And your doctor may recommend other treatments, including:

  • Prescription eyedrops, such as cyclosporine (Restasis).
  • Punctal occlusion, in which the eye doctor inserts a plug to block your tear drainage system. It helps preserve the natural tears on the surface of your eye.
  • An omega-3 fatty acid supplement.

References

Other Works Consulted

  • American Academy of Ophthalmology (2011). Dry Eye Syndrome—Limited Revision (Preferred Practice Pattern). San Francisco: American Academy of Ophthalmology. Also available online: http://one.aao.org/CE/PracticeGuidelines/PPP.aspx.
  • American Optometric Association (2010). Care of the Patient With Ocular Surface Disorders. Optometric Clinical Practice Guideline. Available online: http://www.guideline.gov/content.aspx?id=33585.
  • Drugs for some common eye disorders (2012). Treatment Guidelines From The Medical Letter, 10(123): 79–86.
  • Ervin AM, et al. (2010). Punctal occlusion for dry eye syndrome. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (9).

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Christopher J. Rudnisky, MD, MPH, FRCSC - Ophthalmology
Last Revised January 25, 2013

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