Dry eye syndrome (keratoconjunctivitis sicca) occurs when the eyes are not producing enough tears to keep the eyeball hydrated. This results in the eyes drying out and becoming red and inflamed.
Causes of dry eye syndrome vary and include being in a particularly hot or windy climate, being exposed to air conditioning, extended periods in front of the television or computer, wearing contact lenses, a side effect of medication, and even hormonal changes such as those experienced during the menopause.
What are the symptoms?
The main symptoms of dry eye syndrome include feelings of soreness and grittiness in your eyes, redness, sticky eyelids, excessive watering (despite the name) and temporary periods of blurred vision which can be cleared through blinking. More serious symptoms can include severe sensitivity to light, painful eyes that are seriously red and a noticeable worsening in your vision.
If any of these symptoms are experienced it is important that you seek advice from your optician as soon as possible as they may lead to further complications. In extreme cases dry eye syndrome can cause scarring of the cornea (the transparent layer at the front of your eye) which could permanently damage your eyesight.
How is dry eye syndrome treated?
Most mild cases of dry eye syndrome can be treated through eye drops applied throughout the day, and ointments which are applied overnight. More severe cases can be treated through surgery known as punctual occlusion, which involves sealing your tear ducts to keep your eyes permanently moist.
In the most extreme cases when nothing else has worked, an exceptional procedure called salivary gland autotransplantation can be carried out. This involves removing salivary glands from the lower lip and placing them under the skin around the eyes, with the saliva produced becoming a replacement for tears. It is worth noting, however, that this surgery is uncommon and hardly ever needed.