Dry eye syndrome

The eye depends on the flow of tears to provide constant moisture and lubrication to maintain vision and comfort. Tears have a combination of water (for moisture), oils (lubrication) and mucus (for even spreading) as well as antibodies and proteins against infection. These components are secreted by special glands around the eye. When there is an imbalance in this tear system, you may experience dry eyes. Other common symptoms include, pain, light sensitivity, gritty sensation, itching, redness or blurred vision.

There are a number of causes for dry eye. These include:

  • Ageing
  • Side effects of some medications
  • Diseases that affect the ability to make tears
  • Structural problems in the eye
  • Drying out of the tear film (this can be due to dry air created by air conditioning, heat or other environmental factors)

Sometimes a person with a dry eye will have excess tears. This is because dry eye syndrome is often caused when the eye isn't getting enough lubrication. The eye sends a signal to produce more lubrication and as a result, the eye is flooded with tears to cure the underlying dryness.  However, if these tears are mostly water (rather than lubricating oils) they will not coat the eye surface properly. Because these emergency tears tend to arrive too late, the eye needs to regenerate and treatment is necessary.

In most cases, your GP will be able to treat dry eye, however, if the diagnosis is uncertain, you will be referred to an ophthalmologist.