Dry eye syndrome

Dry eye syndrome, or dry eye disease, is a common condition that occurs when the eyes do not make enough tears or the tears evaporate too quickly.

This leads to the eyes drying out and becoming inflamed (red and swollen) and irritated.

Dry eye syndrome is also known as keratoconjunctivitis sicca, or simply 'dry eyes'.

Symptoms of dry eye syndrome

The symptoms of dry eye syndrome usually affect both eyes and often include:

  • feelings of dryness, grittiness or soreness that get worse throughout the day
  • red eyes
  • eyelids that stick together when you wake up
  • temporarily blurred vision, which usually improves when you blink

See your GP if you experience persistent symptoms of dry eye syndrome. They may examine you to check if the problem is caused by an underlying condition or may refer you to an eye specialist called an optometrist or ophthalmologist for further tests.

Read more about the symptoms of dry eye syndrome and diagnosing dry eye syndrome.

What causes dry eye syndrome?

Dry eye syndrome can occur when the complex tear production process is disrupted in some way. There are many different reasons why this can happen, although a single identifiable cause is not often found.

Common causes include:

  • being in a hot or windy climate
  • wearing contact lenses
  • certain underlying medical conditions, such as blepharitis (inflammation of the eyelids)
  • side effects of certain medications
  • hormonal changes, such as during the menopause (when a woman's periods stop)

Although the condition can affect people of any age, your chances of developing dry eye syndrome increase as you get older. It's estimated that up to one in every three people over the age of 65 experiences problems with dry eyes.

Dry eye syndrome is also more common in women than men.

Read more about the causes of dry eye syndrome.

How dry eye syndrome is treated

Dry eye syndrome is not usually a serious condition.

Treatments are available to help relieve the symptoms, which include eye drops to lubricate the eyes, medications to reduce any inflammation, and (if necessary) surgery to prevent tears from draining away easily.

If dry eye syndrome is caused by an underlying condition, treating this condition will usually help relieve the symptoms. 

Read more about treating dry eye syndrome.

Caring for your eyes

As well as medical treatments, there are some things you can do yourself to help prevent dry eye syndrome or reduce the symptoms.

These include: 

  • keeping your eyes and eyelids clean and protecting them from dusty, smoky, windy and dry environments
  • using your computer or laptop correctly to avoid eye strain
  • using a humidifier to moisten the air
  • eating a healthy diet that includes omega-3 fats

Read more self-help tips for dry eye syndrome.

Further problems

Dry eye syndrome may be uncomfortable, but does not usually cause any serious problems. In rare cases, severe untreated dry eye syndrome can cause scarring of the eye's surface, leading to visual impairment.

Contact your GP or visit your nearest accident and emergency (A&E) department immediately if you have any of the following symptoms, as they could be a sign of a more serious condition:

  • extreme sensitivity to light (photophobia)
  • very red or painful eyes
  • a deterioration in your vision

Read more about the complications of dry eye syndrome.

© Crown Copyright 2009

This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse this site you are agreeing to our use of cookies. Find out more here.