Dry eyes is a common condition that occurs when your tears aren't able to provide adequate lubrication 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 eye drops. You'll likely need to take these measures indefinitely to control the symptoms of dry eyes.
Signs and symptoms, which usually affect both eyes, may include :
See your doctor if you've had prolonged signs and symptoms of dry eyes, including red, irritated, tired or painful eyes. Your doctor can take steps to determine what's bothering your eyes or refer you to a specialist.
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Dry eyes are caused by a lack of adequate tears. Your tears are a complex mixture of water, fatty oils and mucus. This mixture helps make the surface of your eyes smooth and clear, and it helps protect your eyes from infection.
For some people, the cause of dry eyes is decreased tear production. For others it's increased tear evaporation and an imbalance in the makeup of your tears.
Dry eyes can occur when you're unable to produce enough tears. The medical term for this condition is keratoconjunctivitis sicca (ker-uh-toe-kun-junk-tih-VY-tis SIK-uh).
Common causes of decreased tear production include:
Common causes of increased tear evaporation include:
The tear film has three basic layers: oil, water and mucus. Problems with any of these layers can cause dry eyes. For example, the oil film produced by small glands on the edge of your eyelids (meibomian glands) might become clogged. Blocked meibomian glands are more common in people with inflammation along the edge of their eyelids (blepharitis), rosacea or other skin disorders.
Factors that make it more likely that you'll experience dry eyes include:
People who have dry eyes may experience these complications:
If you experience dry eyes, pay attention to the situations that are most likely to cause your symptoms. Then find ways to avoid those situations in order to prevent your dry eyes symptoms.
Tests and procedures that may be used to determine the cause of your dry eyes include :
For most people with occasional or mild dry eye symptoms, it's enough to regularly use over-the-counter eye drops (artificial tears). If your symptoms are persistent and more serious, you have other options. What you do depends on what's causing your dry eyes.
Some treatments focus on reversing or managing a condition or factor that's causing your dry eyes. 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 clear up the signs and symptoms of 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 out-turning lids (ectropion), your doctor may refer you to an eye surgeon who specializes in plastic surgery of the eyelids (oculoplastic surgeon). Or if you have rheumatoid arthritis, your doctor may refer you to a rheumatologist.
Prescription medications used to treat dry eyes include :
Other procedures that may be used to treat dry eyes include:
Tear ducts can be plugged with tiny silicone plugs (punctal plugs). These are removable. Or tear ducts can be plugged with a procedure that uses heat. This is a more permanent solution called thermal cautery.
Some people with severe dry eyes may opt for special contact lenses that protect the surface of your eyes and trap moisture. These are called scleral lenses or bandage lenses.
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For people with blepharitis and other conditions that cause eyelid inflammation that blocks the flow of oil to the eye, frequent and gentle eyelid washing may help.
To wash your eyelids :
Your doctor may recommend that you do this daily, even when your dry eye symptoms have been relieved. Stopping this daily routine may allow your symptoms to return.
Further study is needed, but some alternative medicine approaches may help relieve your dry eye symptoms. Discuss the benefits and risks with your doctor.
You're likely to start by seeing your family doctor. He or she may then refer you to an eye specialist (ophthalmologist). Because appointments can be brief, it's a good idea to be well-prepared for your appointment.
For dry eyes, some basic questions to ask your doctor include :
Don't hesitate to ask additional questions that may occur to you during your appointment.
Your doctor may ask:
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