Most of us have experienced some degree of dry eyes during our lives, but for many this mild inconvenience progresses to a daily occurrence called Dry Eye Syndrome (DES).
DES is a common condition which occurs when the eye does not produce the proper amount or consistency of tears to keep the eye lubricated and healthy. The condition typically produces symptoms ranging from a gritty feeling in the eyes to intense pain, light sensitivity and tissue scarring. Although it is rare for a person to lose vision due to DES, this chronic condition can greatly reduce quality of life for those affected by it.
The causes of DES vary greatly. One of the more common causes of DES in our society today is prolonged computer use. Many of us spend 8 hours or more at a computer, many times without taking sufficient time to allow our eyes to recover from the resulting strain. Remembering to look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds every 20 minutes (20-20-20 rule) when working at the computer will drastically reduce symptoms from computer related DES. Other common causes include: systemic disease, environmental factors, medication side effects, and irritants.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for DES. But there are many effective treatments, depending on the cause of the condition. Remembering the 20-20-20 rule and supplementing with artificial tears daily may also help improve symptoms. If, however, the cause is due to an underlying condition such as inflammatory disease (Sjögrens Syndrome, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, etc.), then other treatments may be used to reduce inflammation of the tissue and restore tear quality.
If you or someone in your family is experiencing daily dry eyes, mention it to your eye doctor at your next exam. Or, schedule an exam specifically to discuss options. Together, you and your doctor can formulate a treatment plan to address your condition. The National Eye Institute has more information about Dry Eye Syndrome here: