Q: What is it?

A: Dry eye is a condition of the eye where either too few tears are produced, or tears drain too quickly from the eye. Dry eye is a common eye problem. As we age, our eyes produce fewer tears...on average about 60% fewer at age 65 than at age 18. Thus older adults often suffer from dry eye, as do pregnant and menopausal women. It must be remembered, however, that dry eye is a relatively common condition which can and does affect all ages and background, regardless of sex.

Dry eyes often occur in patients with arthritis. Medications and Vitamin A deficiency may also cause dry eyes by reducing tear secretion. In addition, environmental factors such as sun, wind and smoke contribute to the onset of dry eyes. Finally, an overly large punctum (drainage channel) or abnormal eyelid location may cause dry eyes.

Q: Can children get it?

A: Yes.

Q: Is aging a factor?

A: Most definitely!

Q: Does it run in families?

A: No.

Q: What are the signs and symptoms?

A: Patients with dry eye often complain that their eyes feel gritty, itchy and dry. Other common symptoms include burning, stinging, redness, stringy mucous and sensitivity to light. Patients with dry eye may also have difficulty wearing contact lenses. Watering of the eye may also be a symptom, as excess tears are produced in response to the irritation. These excess tears lack the oil necessary to keep them from evaporating and, therefore, do not function to lubricate the eye.

Dry eye is often diagnosed by simply examining the eyes. Sometimes tests which measure tear production may be necessary, such as the Schirmer Test, which measures the rate of tear production under various circumstances.

Q: How is it treated?

A: Artificial tears are the most common form of treatment for dry eye. Slow release medicine inserted just inside the lower lid which gradually releases moisture during the day is also helpful. Difficulty opening the eyes in the morning may be treated with an ointment at bedtime. Using a humidifier to add moisture to the air and avoiding smoke, wind and other irritating conditions may provide relief. Soft contact lenses may also be used to keep moisture on the surface of the eye, thus providing the needed moisture and lubrication. In some cases, the punctum may be permanently sealed to keep the tears from draining out of the eye too quickly. The punctum may be blocked by the insertion of permanent punctum plugs or by surgical techniques or lasers.

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