Dry eye syndrome is one of the most common problems treated by eye physicians. It is usually caused by a problem with the quality or amount of the tear film that lubricates the eyes. Risk factors for developing dry eyes include older age, certain systemic medicines, conditions of the ocular surface, and female gender.
Dry eyes can cause a gritty, sandy sensation, burning, stinging, or itching. Some people notice a sticky feeling upon waking from sleep. Occasionally, a dry eye can actually seem watery due to reflex tearing from irritation. Longstanding dry eye can lead to poor vision, redness, and altered sensation of the ocular surface.
The first line of treatment for dry eye syndrome is usually lubrication with artificial tears. There are a multitude of artificial tears available, and “trial and error” is usually the best way to find a favorite. If artificial tears are applied more than four times per day, greater treatment is probably necessary.
For more advanced dryness, prescription anti-inflammatory therapy can actually increase tear production. The prescription eye drop, Restasis ®, has been shown to improve the symptoms of dry eye as well as the ongoing microscopic damage from this condition.
Eye doctors often recommend temporary closure of the tear drainage system to increase the volume of the tear film. Closure is accomplished with a small plug, which fits comfortably into the tear drainage system. Placement of plugs is a quick and painless office procedure.
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