Dry eye syndrome, also known as keratoconjunctivitis sicca (I think I’ll stick with dry eye syndrome for today!), occurs when the eyes either fail to produce enough tears, or evaporate them too quickly.

Although tears are most prominent when you laugh or cry, your eyes are in fact always covered by a layer of liquid known as the tear film.

The tear film helps to add moisture and lubricate your eyes – keeping them free of dust and preventing infections.

Symptoms

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Dry eye syndrome almost always affects both eyes. If you are suffering from dry eye syndrome, you may be experiencing one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Eye redness
  • A stinging or burning sensation in your eyes
  • Eye fatigue
  • Blurred vision
  • Sensitivity to light

Causes

Dry eye syndrome can affect just about anybody, but people become increasingly vulnerable to the condition as they get older. It is also more common amongst women than it is men. Causes of this syndrome can include:

Aging

As you grow older your eyes tend to produce fewer tears and, consequently, your eyes are sometimes unable to produce the necessary moisture to remain in a healthy condition.

Hormonal changes

Many women experience dry eye syndrome after the menopause or after pregnancy, which is why women are more susceptible to the problem than men.

Environment

Symptoms can often worsen in windy weather conditions or in climates with high temperatures and low humidity.

Occupation and hobbies

Focusing on something for a prolonged period of time can lead to you blinking less, which in turn causes your tears to evaporate. Consequently, dry eye syndrome can be caused by a number of seemingly harmless activities; be it reading a book, watching your favourite television series, or staring at a computer screen for too long at work.

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Medical conditions

Dry eye syndrome can sometimes be a by-product of other medical conditions, such as meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD) or blepharitis. It could also be a side-effect of any medication you may be taking, such as the birth control pill. If you do have a medical condition, you should speak with your GP to find out more information regarding this.

Treatments

Unfortunately you cannot cure dry eye syndrome, but there are a number of actions you can take to help alleviate your symptoms. The first step to take is to look at what may be causing the symptoms in the first place and, where possible, amend these activities. This could be taking breaks from looking at your computer screen, or making a conscious effort to blink more frequently whilst focusing on something for a prolonged period of time. Other treatments include:

Artificial tears

Symptoms can often be relieved with eye lubricating products, which can be found in the form of eye drops and eye gels. They all work slightly differently, so if one in particular does not seem to treat your symptoms, it is worth trying another lubricant. Artificial tears work by replacing the absent liquid in the tear film and reducing evaporation from the surface of the eye.

Eye ointment

Eye ointment works similarly to drops and gels, but it is a much thicker substance. Therefore, it is best applied just before you go to bed, as it can slightly blur your vision. Ointments can also make artificial tears less effective.

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Surgery

If your eyes fail to respond to the above treatment methods and dry eye syndrome still persists, you may wish to have surgery to try and rectify the problem. Surgery known as punctal occlusion helps to keep the eyes moist by using plugs that stop your tears sinking into the tear ducts. Another form of surgery is salivary gland autotransplantation, which removes some of the saliva-producing glands from your bottom lip and embeds them into the sides of your eyes. The saliva produced is then used as an alternative to tears.

If you wear contact lenses you should check with your doctor or pharmacist to see which eye treatments are best suited to you.