Dry Eye Syndrome

Dry eye syndrome occurs when your eyes don't make enough tears to keep the surface of the cornea moist, or when the tears that you produce are inferior and prone to evaporate or drain away too quickly.

Every time we blink the eyelid spreads tears across the surface of the eye. These tears drain away through the puncta (small openings in your eye lid) into your nose where they evaporate.

If tear production is reduced or inhibited in some way your eyes will dry out and cause a painful irritation.

People over 65 are more likely to suffer from dry eye. Women are also more likely to be affected by the condition, which is often prevalent during the menopause. Other causes of dry eye include side-effects to medicines, illness and damage to your eyelid caused by disease or injury.

Common symptoms

Dry eye is a painful condition characterised by the following symptoms:

  • a sandy-gritty irritation that gets worse as the day goes on and after concentrating, reading or working on a computer
  • dryness
  • a burning sensation
  • itchy, red or tired eyes

Diagnosis

Your local optician can diagnose dry eye syndrome during a routine sight test. He or she will use a slit lamp to examine the cornea and check that it is sufficiently moist.

Treatment

Treatment for this painful condition is relatively straightforward. Your optometrist can prescribe a range of artificial tears and eye ointments to soothe and lubricate the eye. Over-the-counter sprays that help re-establish the film of tears and prevent loss of moisture are also available from most pharmacies.

Alternatively, your optometrist may advise you about 'punctum plugs' - a plug that is inserted into your tear duct to stop tears draining away. Patients are given a local anaesthetic before silicone plugs are inserted into the puncta. This surgery can be performed by your optometrist.

As well as treating the condition with drops or artificial tears sufferers can minimise the symptoms of dry eye by making some small changes to their lifestyle.

These include:

  • Eating a diet rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. Oily fish such as tuna, salmon and sardines are all excellent sources of Omega-3. You may also find that an Omega–3 supplement with flaxseed oil, fish oil and vitamin E will help, or evening primrose oil.
  • Keeping hydrated. Drink plenty of fluids (at least two litres a day) especially water or herbal teas.
  • Avoiding air conditioned atmospheres where the air is artificially dry.
  • Make yourself blink often and massage the eyelids