Dry Eye Syndrome

What Is It?

Dry eye syndrome occurs when there is a decreased production of tears that moisten, protect and cleanse the eyes. Dry eye syndrome is one of the most common eye problems, and it becomes more common as people age because tear production can diminish as part of the aging process. More women are affected than men, and the syndrome is more likely to flare up at times of hormonal change such as after menopause or during pregnancy or breastfeeding. Birth control pills can trigger dry eye syndrome, and so can many other medications, including antidepressants, antihistamines, decongestants, antianxiety agents and diuretics or other blood pressure pills. Some medicines that are used in the eye also can cause dry eyes as an allergic reaction.

Several autoimmune disorders also can affect the body's ability to produce tears, including Sjögren's syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis and myasthenia gravis, as well as other conditions such as Bell's palsy and thyroid dysfunction.

Symptoms

Dry eye syndrome can cause:

  • Burning or itchy eyes

  • A feeling of something gritty, like sand, in the eyes

  • Sensitivity to light

  • Difficulty wearing contact lenses

  • Excessive tearing

Excessive tearing may seem to be an unusual symptom for dry eye syndrome. But these are called irritant tears, and are produced as a reflex reaction to the syndrome. They contain more water than normal tears, which have a balance of water, fat and mucus. Therefore, the excess tears just run off the eyes and cannot lubricate them as healthy tears do.

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