Dry Eye


Dry eye occurs when the eye does not produce tears properly or when the tears are not of the correct consistency and evaporate too quickly. 

Also, inflammation of the surface of the eye may occur along with the condition. If left untreated, this condition can lead to pain, ulcers, or scars on the cornea and some vision loss. However, permanent loss of vision from the condition is uncommon.

The condition can make it more challenging to perform some activities, such as using a computer or reading for an extended period. It can decrease tolerance for dry environments, such as the air inside an airplane.

Other names include dry eye syndrome, keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS), dysfunctional tear syndrome, lacrimal keratoconjunctivitis, evaporative tear deficiency, and aqueous tear deficiency.

Causes and Risk Factors

Dry eye can be a temporary or chronic condition:

  • It can be a side effect of some medications, including antihistamines, nasal decongestants, tranquilizers, certain blood pressure medicines, Parkinson’s drugs, birth control pills, and anti depressants.
  • Skin disease on or around the eyelids can result in the condition.
  • Diseases of the glands in the eyelids, such as meibomian gland dysfunction, can cause it.
  • It can occur in women who are pregnant.
  • Women who are on hormone replacement therapy may experience it. Women taking only estrogen are 70 percent more likely to experience the condition, whereas those taking estrogen and progesterone have a 30 percent increased risk of developing it.
  • It can also develop after the refractive surgery known as LASIK. These symptoms generally last three to six months but may last longer in some cases.
  • It can result from chemical or thermal burns scarring the membrane lining the eyelids and covering the eye.
  • Allergies can be associated with it.
  • Infrequent blinking, associated with staring at a computer or video screens, may also cause the condition.
  • Both excessive and insufficient dosages of vitamins can contribute to dry eye.
  • Homeopathic remedies may make the condition worse.
  • Loss of sensation in the cornea from long-term contact lens wear can lead to the condition.
  • Dry eye can be associated with immune system disorders such as Sjögren’s syndrome, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis. Sjögren’s leads to inflammation and dryness of the mouth, eyes, and other mucous membranes. It can also affect other organs, including the kidneys, lungs, and blood vessels.
  • Dry eye can be a symptom of chronic inflammation of the conjunctiva—the membrane lining the eyelid and covering the front part of the eye—or the lacrimal gland. Chronic conjunctivitis can be caused by certain eye diseases, infection, exposure to irritants such as chemical fumes and tobacco smoke, or drafts from air conditioning or heating.
  • If the eye’s surface area increases, as in thyroid disease, when the eye protrudes forward or after cosmetic surgery, if the eyelids are opened too widely, dry eye can result.
  • Dry eye may occur from exposure keratitis, in which the eyelids do not close completely during sleep.

Who’s Likely to Develop The Condition?

Older adults frequently experience dryness of the eyes, but it can occur at any age. Nearly five million Americans 50 years of age and older are estimated to have dry eye. More than three million are women, and more than one and a half million are men. Tens of millions more have less severe symptoms. It is more common after menopause. Women who experience menopause prematurely are more likely to have eye surface damage from the condition.

Our Doctors Specializing in Dry Eye

Robert Bailey

Robert S. Bailey, Jr., MD

Amy Weber

Amy E. Weber, MD

Douglas Wisner

Douglas M. Wisner, MD

Philip Kosvitch

Philip A. Kosvitch, OD