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Dry eye syndrome

 

Definition

Dry eye syndrome is when the tear glands produce fewer tears.

See also:

Alternative Names

Keratitis sicca; Xerophthalmia; Keratoconjunctivitis sicca

Causes

Dry eye syndrome often occurs in people who are otherwise healthy. It is more common with older age, because you produce fewer tears with age.

In rare cases, it can be associated with rheumatoid arthritis, lupus erythematosus, and other similar diseases. It may also be caused by heat (thermal) or chemical burns.

In areas of the world where malnutrition is common, vitamin A deficiency is a cause. This is rare in the United States.

Symptoms

Signs and tests

Signs include:

Tests may include:

  • Slit lamp (biomicroscope) exam of the film of tears (a dye such as fluorescein may be placed in the eye to make the tear film more visible)
  • Schirmer's test -- measures the rate of tear production using a calibrated paper wick placed on the edge of the eyelid
Support Groups

Expectations (prognosis)

Most patients with dry eye have only discomfort, and no vision loss. With severe cases, the clear window on the front of the eye (cornea) may become damaged or infected.

Calling your health care provider

See your health care provider immediately if you have dry eyes and have:

  • A sudden increase in discomfort or redness
  • A sudden decrease in vision
Complications

Ulcers or infections of the cornea are serious complications.

Treatments

Treatments may include:

  • Wetting drops called artificial tears
  • Lubricating ointments (in more severe cases)
  • Tiny plugs placed in the tear drainage ducts to help the tears stay on the surface of the eye
  • Medications such as Restasis, topical corticosteroids, and oral tetracycline and doxyccycline

Surgery may be used if the eyelids are in an abnormal position.

Prevention

There is no way to prevent dry eye syndrome. You can prevent complications by using wetting and lubricating drops and ointments.


Review Date: 10/6/2008
Reviewed By: Paul B. Griggs, MD, Department of Ophthalmology, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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