Dry Eye: Causes, Symptoms, and Management

Dry Eye: Causes, Symptoms, and Management


Dry eye, also known as keratoconjunctivitis sicca, is a common and often chronic eye condition that affects millions of people worldwide. It can cause discomfort, irritation, and even affect vision if left untreated. In this article, we will delve into the world of dry eye, exploring its causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and management. Understanding dry eye is crucial for those experiencing it and for those seeking to prevent or alleviate this bothersome condition.

Dry Eye

What is Dry Eye?

Dry eye is a condition characterized by a lack of sufficient lubrication and moisture on the surface of the eye. This results in discomfort, redness, and visual disturbances, such as blurred vision. The tear film, which consists of water, oil, and mucus, is responsible for keeping the eye’s surface smooth and clear. Any imbalance in this tear film can lead to keratoconjunctivitis sicca.

Causes of Dry Eye

Several factors can contribute to the development of keratoconjunctivitis sicca, including:

  1. Aging: Dry eye becomes more common with age as tear production naturally decreases.
  2. Environmental Factors: Dry or windy climates, air conditioning, and heating systems can lead to increased tear evaporation.
  3. Medications: Some medications, such as antihistamines, decongestants, and certain antidepressants, can reduce tear production.
  4. Medical Conditions: Conditions like Sjögren’s syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, and diabetes can lead to keratoconjunctivitis sicca.
  5. Blinking Disorders: Irregular blinking or incomplete eyelid closure may reduce the spread of tears across the eye’s surface.
  6. Prolonged Screen Time: Extensive screen use, such as computers and smartphones, can reduce blink rates and lead to keratoconjunctivitis sicca symptoms.
  7. Hormonal Changes: Hormonal fluctuations, such as those experienced during pregnancy or menopause, can affect tear production.

Symptoms of Dry Eye

The symptoms of dry eye can vary from mild to severe and may include:

  1. A gritty or sandy feeling in the eyes.
  2. Burning or stinging sensations.
  3. Redness in the eyes.
  4. Excessive tearing (a reflex response to dryness).
  5. Blurred vision.
  6. Eye fatigue.
  7. Light sensitivity.
  8. Difficulty wearing contact lenses.


Diagnosing dry eye involves a comprehensive eye examination and an assessment of your symptoms. Specialized tests may be used to evaluate tear quality, quantity, and stability. The Schirmer’s test measures tear production, while tear breakup time assesses the stability of the tear film. Additionally, your eye care professional may evaluate the cornea’s health and the integrity of the eyelid and meibomian gland function.

Diagnosing dry eye is a crucial step in managing this common and often uncomfortable eye condition. Proper diagnosis helps healthcare professionals understand the underlying causes and determine the most effective treatment options. Here are key points related to the diagnosis of keratoconjunctivitis sicca:

  1. Symptom Assessment: Diagnosis often begins with a thorough evaluation of the patient’s symptoms. Common symptoms of keratoconjunctivitis sicca include a gritty or sandy sensation, burning or stinging in the eyes, redness, excessive tearing, blurred vision, eye fatigue, and light sensitivity.
  2. Medical History: Healthcare providers typically inquire about the patient’s medical history, including any existing medical conditions, medications, and environmental factors that might contribute to keratoconjunctivitis sicca.
  3. Lifestyle and Environment: Patients may be asked about their daily routines and environment, as factors like prolonged screen time, air conditioning, and heating systems can exacerbate keratoconjunctivitis sicca symptoms.
  4. External Eye Examination: A basic external eye examination can reveal signs of dry eye, such as redness, corneal staining, and meibomian gland dysfunction.
  5. Schirmer’s Test: This test measures tear production. A small strip of filter paper is placed under the lower eyelid, and the amount of wetting is assessed. Low tear production can indicate keratoconjunctivitis sicca.
  6. Tear Breakup Time: Tear breakup time measures the stability of the tear film. A special dye is applied to the eye, and the time it takes for the tear film to break up is recorded. A shorter tear breakup time suggests unstable tear film and may be indicative of dry eye.
  7. Corneal Staining: Fluorescein or lissamine green dyes can be used to assess the integrity of the corneal surface. Dry eye can lead to corneal damage, which can be visualized through staining.
  8. Meibomian Gland Assessment: Dysfunction of the meibomian glands, responsible for producing the oil layer of the tear film, is a common cause of keratoconjunctivitis sicca. Healthcare providers may assess the function and structure of these glands.
  9. Blink Rate and Quality: Abnormal blink patterns or incomplete blinks can impact the distribution of tears across the eye’s surface. An assessment of blink quality and rate can be informative.
  10. Tear Osmolarity Test: This test measures the osmolarity or salt concentration in tears. Elevated tear osmolarity is a marker for keratoconjunctivitis sicca and can help with diagnosis.
  11. Tear Volume Evaluation: Additional tests may assess the volume of tears produced. This can include the use of specialized instruments to measure tear volume or imaging techniques.
  12. Comprehensive Eye Examination: In some cases, a comprehensive eye examination by an ophthalmologist may be necessary to rule out other eye conditions or complications related to keratoconjunctivitis sicca.
  13. Differential Diagnosis: Dry eye symptoms can overlap with other eye conditions. Healthcare providers need to consider differential diagnoses to ensure an accurate assessment.
  14. Objective and Subjective Evaluation: The diagnosis may involve both objective measurements and subjective assessments of the patient’s symptoms to provide a comprehensive understanding of the condition.

In conclusion, diagnosing dry eye is a multi-faceted process that combines patient-reported symptoms, clinical examinations, and specialized tests to determine the presence and underlying causes of the condition. Early and accurate diagnosis is essential for tailoring effective treatment plans and managing the discomfort and inconvenience associated with keratoconjunctivitis sicca. If you suspect you have dry eye, consult with an eye care professional for a thorough evaluation and appropriate management.

Management of Dry Eye

The management of dry eye may involve a combination of lifestyle changes, home remedies, and medical treatments. Here are some common strategies:

  1. Artificial Tears: Over-the-counter artificial tear drops can provide temporary relief from keratoconjunctivitis sicca symptoms.
  2. Lifestyle Modifications: Stay hydrated, use a humidifier, and take breaks from prolonged screen use to reduce eye strain.
  3. Blinking Exercises: Regularly practice complete blinks to help spread tears evenly across the eye.
  4. Warm Compresses: Apply warm compresses to the eyelids to promote the flow of meibum, the oil that helps prevent tear evaporation.
  5. Prescription Medications: In some cases, eye drops or ointments containing cyclosporine or corticosteroids may be prescribed.
  6. Meibomian Gland Expression: Your eye care professional may perform meibomian gland expression to clear blocked oil glands.
  7. Punctal Plugs: These small plugs can be inserted into the tear ducts to reduce tear drainage, keeping more moisture on the eye’s surface.
  8. Lid Hygiene: Proper lid hygiene can help prevent and manage meibomian gland dysfunction, a common cause of keratoconjunctivitis sicca.

Dry eye is a prevalent and often bothersome eye condition that can significantly impact one’s quality of life. Understanding the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and management options is essential for those dealing with dry eye. If you suspect you have keratoconjunctivitis sicca, consult with an eye care professional to develop a personalized treatment plan that addresses your specific needs and provides relief from the discomfort and irritation associated with this condition.

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