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Dry Eye Syndrome (cont.)

When Should Someone Seek Medical Care for Dry Eye Syndrome?

If you routinely experience any of the following symptoms, you should probably see your ophthalmologist (a medical doctor who specializes in eye care and surgery):

  • eye pain,
  • excessive tearing,
  • dry, gritty/scratchy, or filmy feeling in the eyes,
  • burning or itching of the eyes,
  • redness of the eyes,
  • blurred vision,
  • a sensation of having a foreign body in the eyes, or
  • light sensitivity.

What Questions Should People Ask Their Doctor About Dry Eye Syndrome?

  • Is there a specific cause for my dry eyes?
  • What is the most effective treatment for my dry eyes?
  • Is there anything I can do to decrease the need for eyedrops or artificial tears?

What Exams and Tests Diagnose Dry Eye Syndrome?

Patient Comments

During your eye examination, your health care professional will most likely be able to diagnose dry eye syndrome just from hearing your complaints regarding your eyes. As part of your eye examination, the doctor may also perform the following tests.

  • The front of your eyes are examined using a special microscope, called a slit lamp microscope.
    • The amount and thickness of the tear film are inspected.
    • The stability of the tear film is assessed by checking the tear break-up time.
    • The conjunctiva is examined to determine if it is too dry.
    • The cornea is checked to see if it has dried out or become damaged.
  • Different dyes may be used during your eye examination.
    • Fluorescein is a yellow dye that stains the cornea where the epithelial (surface) cells have been worn away because of the lack of an adequate protective tear film.
    • Rose Bengal is a red dye that stains the cornea and the conjunctiva where the cells are dead or dying as well as where healthy cells are inadequately protected by the tear film.
    • Lissamon Green is a green dye which likewise can help differentiate between normal and abnormal surface cells of the cornea and conjunctiva.
  • Schirmer tests measure the amount of tears produced by your eyes. Your ophthalmologist places the end of a thin strip of filter paper just inside the lower eyelid. After a minute, the filter paper is removed and the amount of wetting is measured. Less wetting of the filter paper is more indicative of DES.
  • The osmolarity (salt content) of the tears may be measured. This is a newer test which has been developed to aid in the diagnosis of DES.
  • If autoimmune diseases are suspected as a cause of DES, blood tests may be performed. These blood tests check for the presence of different autoantibodies that may be associated with DES.
  • Rarely a biopsy of the salivary glands may be performed. Certain disease processes affect both the salivary glands, which produce saliva in your mouth, and the lacrimal glands, which produce tears.

Are There Home Remedies for Dry Eye Syndrome?

To help alleviate your symptoms from DES, you may want to try these self-help tips at home.

  • A humidifier puts more moisture in the air. With more moisture in the air, your tears evaporate more slowly, keeping your eyes more comfortable. Both furnaces in the winter and air conditioning in the summer decrease the humidity in the air.
  • Excessive air movement dries out your eyes. Avoid having excessive air movement by decreasing the speed of ceiling fans and/or oscillating fans.
  • Large amounts of dust or other particulate matter in the air may worsen the symptoms of dry eye. In those situations, an air filter may be helpful.
  • Hot compresses and eyelid scrubs/massage with baby shampoo help by providing a thicker, more stable lipid layer. This is especially helpful if you have meibomian gland dysfunction, rosacea, or blepharitis. The heat warms up the oil in the oil glands, making it flow more easily; the massaging action helps get the oil out of the glands. The cleansing action decreases the number of bacteria that break down the oil.
  • Artificial tears and lubricating eye drops and gels (available over the counter) help provide more moisture and lubrication for the surface of your eye. They are typically used about four times a day, but they can be used as often as needed. Preservative-free solutions are recommended if you wish to use artificial tears more than six times a day. There is no single over-the-counter drop that is best for everyone. Each individual will determine which drop provides the most relief from symptoms. Some drops may have a longer effect than others.
  • Lubricating eye ointments are much thicker than eye drops and gels. Because ointments are so thick, they last much longer than eye drops and gels. However, because of their thickness, ointments may blur your vision if used during the day. Therefore, they are typically used to lubricate the eyes overnight while you are asleep.
  • If you notice your eyes are dry mainly while you are reading or watching TV, taking frequent breaks to allow your eyes to rest and become moist and comfortable again is helpful. Closing your eyes for 10 seconds every five to 10 minutes will increase your comfort, as will blinking more frequently.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/31/2015

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