What is Dry Eye Syndrome?

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Do your eyes ever suffer from a gritty, sandy sensation? If so, you may be suffering from Dry Eye Syndrome (DES), which is also known as Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca (KCS). Dry Eye Syndrome is an eye disease resulting from the poor quality and quantity of tears, which lubricate the eye naturally.

Symptoms of Dry Eye Syndrome include dry, red, irritated eyes or trouble wearing contact lenses. The irritated eye can also tend to water excessively as a response to the dryness. Sufferers may experience anything from a mild discomfort to stingy irritation, which may be annoying in the course of their daily activities.

What causes Dry Eye Syndrome?

Dry eyes are not caused by just one factor, and sometimes can be a result of medical and environmental factors. The following are some common causes of Dry Eye Syndrome.

Inflammation of the eyelid glands (meibomian glands) can compromise the quality of the tear film which causes tears to evaporate more quickly resulting in irritation.

Medications such as decongestants, antihistamines, blood pressure medications, oral contraceptives, antidepressants and even some eye drop products such as for red eyes can increase dry eye symptoms.

Sjögren’s Syndrome is a disorder in which immune cells attack and destroy the glands that produce tears and saliva to cause dry eyes and dry mouth. Although associated with rheumatic arthritis, Sjögren’s Syndrome can occur throughout all age groups. Other diseases that may be associated with dry eyes include diabetes, asthma, thyroid disease, and lupus.

Tear production decreases with age, therefore those over the age of 65 are more likely to display the symptoms of Dry Eye Syndrome. Women also have a greater likelihood than men of developing dry eye due to hormonal changes.

Eye strain, fatigue and the tendency to blink less frequently while focusing on a computer monitor can lead to dry eyes. Dusty and smoky environments also exacerbate dry eye irritation. Dry eye is also the leading cause of contact lens discomfort, commonly affecting soft contact lens wearers.

How can it be diagnosed?

Specific identification of the factors contributing to Dry Eye Syndrome is the most important step towards treatment. Although there are many factors that contribute to dry eyes, a simple ophthalmologic test can evaluate both the quality and quantity of your tears and provide you with a personalised treatment programme.

How can it be treated?

It is not uncommon for treatment to be a staged process in order to properly address the various causes of Dry Eye Syndrome. In order to provide relief, tears must be replaced or conserved.

Replacing tears: Artificial tears give temporary relief and can be purchased without a prescription. However using the drops more than three times a day may result in further irritation and therefore a preservative-free formulation is recommended. Preservative-free drops are also safe to use with contact lenses.

Conserving tears: If dry eye symptoms persist, another solution may be the reducing tear drainage. This is a temporary or permanent closure of a tear drainage channel, also referred to as punctal occlusion. The procedure involves placing silicone plugs into one or more of the tear drainage channels, stopping tears from draining into your nose. Punctal occlusion eliminates the need to constantly replace the tear film with artificial tears and allows you to retain your own natural tears.

New technologies such as the Tearscope and autologous human serum eye drops are now available in New Zealand and can greatly benefit patients with severe dry eyes. If you think you suffer from Dry Eye Syndrome consult a qualified ophthalmologist or eye specialist for advice.