Dry eye, also called “keratoconjunctivitis sicca”, is a very common and widespread syndrome. The word “dry” can be confusing, as one of the main symptoms is excessive watering. Though it might appear simple at first glance, it can have a significant effect on the visual comfort of a patient. Dry eye can have many causes, the most common being:
- a dry, ventilated environment;
- a reduced blink rate (computer work, reading);
- reduced tear production;
- poor-quality tears.
Reduced tear production can be caused by aging, hormonal changes, medication, refractive surgery (LASIK), and chronic inflammatory diseases (e.g., Sjögren’s syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis). Most often, poor-quality tears derive from a dysfunction of the Meibomian glands in the presence of blepharitis (eyelid inflammation), as the opening of these glands is located on the edge of the eyelids. The glands secrete meibum, oil that protects tears from evaporation. If the secretion of meibum is altered, the constitution of the tears is compromised.
The treatment for dry eye usually starts with the instillation of artificial tears four times a day. However, it is also important to treat the blepharitis. This consists of applying warm compresses to and massaging the eyelids. This therapy is explained in greater under “Blepharitis”. If the burning sensation, the irritation, the sandy feeling and other symptoms persist after the treatment, medicated eye drops can be prescribed. The type of artificial tear prescribed and frequency of application can vary from person to person.
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