How do I Know If I have Dry Eye Syndrome?

How do I know if I have Dry Eye?

The most common symptoms of dry eye syndrome are burning, pain, and redness in the eyes. Other common symptoms include watery tearing or stringy mucus in the eyes. You may find that your eyes get tired faster than they used to or that you have difficulty reading or sitting at the computer for long periods.

How is dry eye diagnosed and treated?

According to the National Eye Institute people experiencing dry eye symptoms should consult an eye care professional to determine the cause, which guides treatment strategy.

Change medications. Consult a physician about switching medications to alternative ones that are not associated with dry eye. This may alleviate dry eye symptoms.

  • Over-the-counter (OTC) topical medications. Mild dry eye symptoms may be treated with over-the-counter medications such as artificial tears, gels, and ointments.
  • Environmental and lifestyle changes. Cutting back on the screen time and taking periodic eye breaks may help. Closing the eyes for a few minutes, or blinking repeatedly for a few seconds, may replenish basal tears and spread them more evenly across the eye. Sunglasses that wrap around the face and have side shields that block wind and dry air can reduce symptoms in windy or dry conditions.
  • In cases of Meibomian gland dysfunction, warm lid compresses and scrubs may be helpful.
  • Smoking cessation and limiting exposure to secondhand smoke also may help.
  • Prescription dry eye medications. Cyclosporine and lifitegrast are the only prescription medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for treating dry eye. Corticosteroid eye drops also may be prescribed short-term to reduce eye inflammation.
  • Devices. FDA-approved devices provide temporary relief from dry eye by stimulating glands and nerves associated with tear production.
  • Surgical options. Punctal plugs made of silicone or collagen may be inserted by an eye care professional to partially or completely plug the tear ducts at the inner corners of the eye to keep tears from draining from the eye. In severe cases, surgical closure of the drainage ducts by thermal punctal cautery may be recommended to close the tear ducts permanently.

What research is NEI supporting to improve treatments for dry eye?

NEI-supported researchers are studying the underlying causes of dry eye to better understand the disease and to develop novel treatments.

In a healthy eye, only one-tenth of a degree of cooling from evaporation is needed for activation of nerves that trigger basal tearing. Researchers are investigating factors that influence the ability of corneal nerves to sense tear evaporation. Such research may lead to the development of topical corneal nerve stimulators, or products that increase nerve sensitivity to drying.The protein lacritin in tears promotes basal tearing (via nerve stimulation) and eye health. Some people with dry eye have low levels of lacritin in their tears. A topical, synthetic form of the protein has been developed for initial testing in people with dry eye.

Since corneal nerve number, length, and function are substantially diminished in dry eye, another research goal is to devise ways to promote their regrowth. Such a product could also help individuals suffering from dry eye after corneal laser surgery, such as LASIK.

Other research is exploring the role of stem cells in the natural development of lacrimal glands. This early-stage research may eventually enable use of a patient’s own stem cells to rebuild or replace tear-producing lacrimal glands.

Investigation is ongoing into the molecular composition of the tear lipid layer, and factors that either stabilize or destabilize it.  Treatments to stabilize it may help reduce tear evaporation.

For more information on dry eye syndrome visit or call our dry eye center of excellence at 843-449-6414.