Dry eye syndrome is a chronic lack of sufficient lubrication and moisture in the eye. It is usually related to decreased production or excessive evaporation of tears.
Symptoms include persistent feelings of dryness, scratching and burning. Some people also experience a “foreign body sensation,” the feeling that something is in the eye. Sometimes watery eyes can result from dry eye syndrome, as the excessive dryness induces irritation and reflex tearing.
Dry eye syndrome has several causes. It can occur as part of the natural aging process, a common problem among perimenopausal women. It can be a side effect of many medications, such as antihistamines, antidepressants, certain blood pressure medicines, and birth control pills. Dry eyes can be a symptom of systemic diseases such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and Sjogren’s syndrome.
Excessive evaporation of tears due to poor tear quality, incomplete eyelid closure or insufficient blinking (as when staring at a computer screen) can also cause dry eyes.
The treatment of dry eyes can sometimes be difficult as it is usually an ongoing condition that may not be cured. Artificial tears are lubricating eye drops that may alleviate the burning and scratchy feelings. If medications are a contributing cause of dry eyes, the benefits of the drug should be weighed against the side effect of dry eyes. Sometimes switching to a different type of medication can alleviate the problem. If artificial tears are not providing sufficient relief, prescription eye drops might be necessary to increase the production of tears and decrease inflammation.
Temporary or permanent closure of the ducts where tears drain is another alternative for those patients with moderate to severe dry eyes. Nutritional supplements containing certain essential fatty acids (omega-3) have also been helpful for some patients.