What is Dry Eye Syndrome?

Bronwyn Harris

Dry eye syndrome, or DES, sounds like a relatively benign ailment. However, as sufferers can attest, this affliction actually lowers the quality of life for millions of people in the United States alone. DES is a disorder that affects the amount or quality of tears produced by a person's eyes, and primarily affects women.

Dry eye syndrome occurs when not enough fluid is produced in the eyes.
Dry eye syndrome occurs when not enough fluid is produced in the eyes.

In the eyes of an average person, a "tear film" is always present, lubricating and protecting the eyes. People with dry eye syndrome do not produce enough fluid in their eyes, weakening the tear film, and causing their eyes to become uncomfortably dry. A study related in the American Journal of Ophthalmology found that people with DES had more problems using a computer, reading, watching television, and driving, than people without DES.

Some patients may need a surgical procedure to close tear ducts.
Some patients may need a surgical procedure to close tear ducts.

Symptoms of dry eyes most commonly appear in people over age 40, but can occur in any adult. It may be related to estrogen levels, but this link is not fully understood. However, it is known that women are two to three times more likely than men to suffer from dry eye syndrome.

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Watching television may be a problem for someone with dry eye syndrome.
Watching television may be a problem for someone with dry eye syndrome.

Dry eye syndrome is sometimes overlooked by doctors because it is not known to cause blindness. It is, however, one of the most common reasons for trips to the eye doctor, and a very serious problem for people who suffer from DES, as it can cause pain, irritation, and an inability to perform daily tasks like reading comfortably. Eye doctors can diagnose dry eye syndrome by measuring the amount of tears found in a patient's eyes.

There is no cure for DES but its symptoms are treatable. People suffering from dry eye syndrome can use eye drops, artificial tears, topical steroids, and restasis drops, which actually encourage the patient's eyes to increase the production of tears.

Another treatment for dry eye syndrome is to insert lacrimal plugs. These plugs are inserted in the tear, or lacrimal, ducts. The insertion should be painless, and they can be inserted on a permanent or temporary basis. If this is not effective, some patients need a surgical procedure to close their tear ducts. Both lacrimal plugs and surgical closing of tear ducts keep the tears from draining away as quickly.

For some people, nutritional supplements can help relieve the symptoms of dry eye syndrome. Supplements that contain essential fatty acids may help, as can drinking additional water. Some medications may cause dry eyes, but all medications should only be discontinued under advice from your doctor.

Eye drops may help relieve dry eyes.
Eye drops may help relieve dry eyes.

Discussion Comments

anon79470

If dry eye syndrome is left untreated what would/could happen? I have had blurred vision and eye doctor said he didn't see anything. Mainly blurred when reading in the evening. Not all words are blurred. Left side I can read and then it blurs?

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