What are dry eyes?

Tears are important for the health and comfort of your eyes. Every time you blink, a thin film of tears is swept across the surface of your eyes. If you suffer from dry eyes you do not have enough tears to keep your eyes comfortable. This may mean you do not produce enough tears to keep the surface of your eyes moist, or the tears do not stay on your eyes long enough.
There is no cure for dry eyes, but its symptoms can be managed.

What are the symptoms?

  • Stinging/burning sensation
  • Redness
  • Gritty feeling (often like having sand in the eyes)
  • Itchiness
  • Fluctuations in vision that clear with blinking
  • Light sensitivity

What causes dry eyes?

  • Dry eyes can be due to:
  • Natural ageing process
  • Menopause
  • Related eyelid conditions (such as blepharitis – a very common inflammatory condition involving the eyelids)
  • Medical conditions (rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune disorders)
  • Medications (oral contraceptives, antidepressants, antihistamines, diuretics and beta blockers, which are used for high blood pressure or people with heart conditions)
  • The environment (dry)
  • Irritants (cigarette smoke, dust, or chemical exposure)
  • Extended periods of time in front of a computer screen or television (due to infrequent blinking)
  • Previous laser vision correction surgery

How can dry eyes be treated?

Dry eyes can be successfully treated, although there is no cure. The aim of treatment is to provide an adequate tear film to stop excess loss of tears. There are a range of different options, including artificial tear drops and ointment.

Artificial tear drops are available over the counter at your local pharmacy. You might have to try a number of different drops until you find one that works for you. You may also need thicker lubricant, such as gels or ointment, particularly in the evenings. You may have to use the drops on a regular basis even when your eyes feel fine, to stop the symptoms from recurring.
If left untreated, damage to the front surface of the eye (the cornea) may occur.

What can I do to help?

If you have persisting symptoms despite lubricating eye drops or gels, it may be helpful to see your doctor about side effects of any medications you take. If you wear contact lenses, you should reduce the number of hours you wear your lenses. You may also consider changes to your environment, such as using humidifiers. In some severe cases, an ophthalmologist may use plugs that can be inserted into the tear ducts to stop the tears from draining away too quickly.