What is dry eye disease? | Signs & Symptoms, Treatment

What is dry eye disease?

Have you ever experienced this burning or stinging sensation in your eyes? Perhaps after you might have been in an air-conditioned place or stared at a computer screen for long hours. These sensations may be caused by an eye condition known as dry eye disease.

What is the function of tears?

Glands under the skin of your upper eyelids produce tears that are eventually discharged via tear ducts to the surface of your eyes. These tears wash away external dust and particles that might come into your eyes to ensure that your eyes are well lubricated. Tears are also a part of your body’s immune system that staves off infections. These tears are essential in keeping the surface of your eyes moist and nourished, and ensure clear vision as well as maintain the health of the front surface of your eyes.

Every time you blink, tears spread across the cornea of your eye. The excess tears flow into small drainage ducts located at the inner corners of your eyelids.

What is dry eye disease?

Dry eye disease happens when your tears cannot offer ample lubrication for your eyes because they are inadequately produced or they are of poor quality. Environmental factors such as windy or dry climates may cause tears to evaporate and thus reduce the overall tear volume. Producing fewer tears is also a part of the natural process of ageing.

Other factors that may cause dry eye disease include allergies, lack of blinking brought about by excessive screen time as well as contact lens wear for prolonged periods of time. Dry eye symptoms, such as the burning or stinging sensations mentioned above, surface when the tear production decreases or when tears on the surface of your eye evaporate too quickly. Excessive tearing, itchy or burning eyes, as well as blurry vision are also some other symptoms of dry eye syndrome [1].

On the front surface of your eye there is a tear film that comprises 3 layers, namely the water, mucus, and oil layer. Any imbalance in each layer might lead to dry eye symptoms. The oil layer is produced by meibomian glands, which are small glands on the edge of the eyelid. When these glands fail to make or release adequate oil, the tear film would evaporate too quickly and result in a condition known as ‘evaporative dry eye” [2].

When the front surface of your eye dries out, it can get inflamed, become susceptible to bacterial infection, and even get damaged. Your eyes can become irritated and uncomfortable and such irritation can stimulate the lacrimal glands to produce more tears to the extent that these tears saturate the eye’s natural drainage system. This condition, when it becomes chronic, is known as keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS).

How can we treat dry eye disease?

If left untreated, suffering from chronic dry eye disease can be a very uncomfortable experience. Your eye might become more vulnerable to infections and scarring. Hence it is important to treat dry eye symptoms early.

One way to address milder cases of dry eye disease is by using over-the-counter products. Such products are not meant to be treatments for dry eye, but only as palliatives to lessen the symptoms. For instance, you could obtain artificial tears, gels, ointments, and eye drops to mitigate the symptoms of dry eye disease. These over-the-counter options contain moisture-retaining ingredients as well as lubricants like carboxymethylcellulose that can mitigate the symptoms of dry eye disease [3].

It is important to note that the constant use of such products, especially those containing preservatives, might lead to allergic reactions or discomfort in the long haul. It is advised to consult your eye health professional before using these over-the-counter products.

Alternatively, you might need to resort to prescription drugs prescribed by your eye doctor or eye health professional. One of the more common drugs to address dry eye disease is an anti-inflammatory drug called cyclosporine (Restasis) that heightens the amount of tears in your eyes to reduce the risk of corneal damage.

Your eye doctor might recommend lacrimal plugs to obstruct the drainage holes in the corner of your eyes in order to slow down the rate of tear loss. These plugs can either be temporary or even a more permanent solution to ensure that your eyes have sufficient tears, depending on how severe your dry eye disease is.

Reduce the symptoms of dry eye disease with the following:

  • Regularly blink when staring at a digital screen for long periods of time
  • Wear sunglasses with wraparound frames when spending time outdoors to decrease the eyes’ exposure to dry winds and the sun
  • Drink plenty of water daily (8 to 10 glasses)

Get your eyes checked regularly!

If you experience any of the above signs and symptoms, schedule an appointment with an eye health professional to get your eyes checked. During such eye checks, an eye health professional would ask for your health history to determine if any preexisting medical conditions might have an influence on your condition. Your doctor may also examine your blink rate, lid structure, as well as use a bright light to assess the condition of your cornea.


[1]  Jr, D. and Lindsey Marcellin, M., 2021. What’s Behind Watery Eyes? | Everyday Health. [online] EverydayHealth.com. Available at: <https://www.everydayhealth.com/vision-center/the-healthy-eye/watery-eyes.aspx> [Accessed 14 August 2021].

[2] Fighting Blindness. 2021. Dry Eye Syndrome | Fighting Blindness. [online] Available at: <https://www.fightingblindness.ie/living-with-sight-loss/eye-conditions/dry-eye-syndrome/> [Accessed 14 August 2021].

[3] Healthline. 2021. Dry Eye Syndrome. [online] Available at: <https://www.healthline.com/health/dry-eye-syndrome#symptoms> [Accessed 14 August 2021].

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