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What is Dry Eye?

Dry eye disease is a common condition – according to the National Eye Institute, nearly 16 million Americans have dry eye. It occurs when your tears aren't able to provide adequate lubrication for your eyes. Dry eyes may occur if you don't produce enough tears or if you produce poor-quality tears. This tear instability leads to inflammation and damage of the eye's surface.


Doctor putting drops in patient's eyesSigns and symptoms, which usually affect both eyes, may include:

  • A stinging, burning or scratchy sensation in your eyes
  • Stringy mucus in or around your eyes
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Eye redness
  • A sensation of having something in your eyes
  • Difficulty wearing contact lenses
  • Difficulty with nighttime driving
  • Watery eyes, which is the body's response to the irritation of dry eyes
  • Blurred vision or eye fatigue 


People with dry eyes either do not produce enough tears or their tears are of a poor quality. Dry eyes can develop for many reasons, including:

  • Age. Dry eyes are a part of the natural aging process. Many people over the age of 65 experience some symptoms of dry eyes.
  • Gender. Women are more likely to develop dry eyes due to hormonal changes caused by pregnancy, the use of oral contraceptives and menopause.
  • Medications. Certain medicines, including antihistamines, decongestants, blood pressure medications, and antidepressants, can reduce tear production.
  • Medical conditions. People with rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, and thyroid problems are more likely to have symptoms of dry eyes.
  • Environmental conditions. Exposure to smoke, wind and dry climates can increase tear evaporation resulting in dry eye symptoms.
  • Computer and electronic devices. Dry eye can happen if you spend a lot of time looking at your computer, tablet, or smart phone.
  • Contact Lens Use and Eye Surgery. Long-term use of contact lenses can be a factor in the development of dry eyes. Refractive eye surgeries, such as LASIK, can decrease tear production and contribute to dry eyes.

student at computerComplications

People who have dry eyes may experience these complications:

  • Eye infections. Tears protect the surface of your eyes from infection. Without adequate tears, you may have an increased risk of eye infection.
  • Damage to the surface of your eyes. If left untreated, severe dry eyes may lead to eye inflammation, abrasion of the corneal surface, corneal ulcers and vision loss.
  • Decreased quality of life. Dry eyes can make it difficult to perform everyday activities, such as reading.

Treating Dry Eye

  • Over-the-counter eye drops. The most common treatment for mild dry eye is eye drops called artificial tears. These eye drops can be purchased without a prescription.
  • Prescription medicines. If your dry eye is more serious, your eye doctor may give you a prescription for medicines that can help your eyes make more tears.
  • Tear duct plugs. If tears are draining too quickly from your eyes, your doctor may suggest putting special plugs in your tear ducts. These plugs can help keep your tears in your eyes.
  • Surgery. In some cases, dry eye can happen because your lower eyelids are too loose, causing tears to drain too quickly out of your eye. If this is the cause of your dry eye, your eye doctor may suggest surgery to fix your eyelids and help your tears stay on your eyes. This treatment is not very common. 

woman having eye examDry Eye Prevention Tips

  • Try to avoid smoke, wind, and air conditioning
  • Use a humidifier to keep the air in your home from getting too dry
  • Limit screen time and take breaks from staring at screens
  • Wear wraparound sunglasses when you're outside
  • Drink plenty of water — try for eight to 10 glasses every day
  • Get enough sleep — about seven to eight hours a night 

Untreated dry eye syndrome can cause damage to the cornea, the front surface of the eye. Early diagnosis and treatment of the condition can avoid damaging the cornea and improve the quality of vision.

The Eye Institute’s Dry Eye Clinic focuses on the diagnosis and management of dry eye syndrome. Expert optometrists provide comprehensive dry eye evaluations, using the latest technology, and recommend thorough, customized therapy plans for each patient.

If you are experiencing symptoms of dry eye, contact the dry eye experts at The Eye Institute. For an appointment, call: 215.276.6111.