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What is Dry Eye Syndrome?

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The medical term for dry eye syndrome is keratoconjunctivitis sicca, although some experts prefer “dysfunctional tear syndrome.” Dry eye syndrome is exactly what it sounds like – chronic dry eyes and other symptoms that are caused by inadequate tear production and distribution. This can occur because either the lacrimal glands do not produce enough tears, or because the tear composition is inadequate and as a result, the tears evaporate too quickly on the surface of the eye.

Major Causes: Behavioral and Environmental

There are many possible causes of dry eye syndrome. Oftentimes, people who spend a high percentage of time on their computers will experience eyestrain, irritation, a burning or stinging sensation, a general “tired” eye sensation and, of course, dry eyes.

A major culprit of dry eye syndrome is contact lens wear. Over time, contact lenses can decrease the nerve sensation on your eye’s cornea. They also absorb moisture and may cause an allergic response known as GPC, or giant papillary conjunctivitis.

One possible cause of dry eye syndrome that sounds almost implausible is driving. However, if you spend a lot of time driving long distances, your eyes are intensely focused, which can result in a reduced blink rate. Your eyes are also exposed to either the air conditioning, heating system or wind.

Sports can also affect your eyes. Any sport that increases the wind current against your eyes will result in increased tear evaporation, such as downhill skiing, skating, sailing or biking.

Your environment can also factor in dry eye syndrome. If you live at high altitudes, or in a hot, dry or windy climate, your tear evaporation rate tends to increase. Indoor environments are just as important – remember the air conditioning and heating example in long-distance driving? Pollution also affects your eyes, particularly tobacco smoke, whether secondhand or otherwise.

Diseases and Conditions

Dry eye syndrome can also be caused by allergies or sensitivities. Allergic reactions can cause inflammation to the eye, which can result in both increased evaporation of tears, as well as decreased tear production. Some eye drops intended for allergy sufferers contain preservatives, which can also contribute to inflammation.

Lagophthalmos is a complicated name for a simple condition: the eyelids do not close properly. Sometimes this happens when you’re sleeping. When the eyes are exposed for too long, they become dry.

There are many other medical conditions that can cause dry eye syndrome, including meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD), anterior blepharitis, primary acquired lacrimal gland disease, stroke, conjunctivochalasis, ocular herpes, Sjogren’s syndrome and others.

The Symptoms of Dry Eye Syndrome

Obviously a major symptom of dry eye syndrome is dry eyes. However, there are many other possible symptoms. They include achy or sore eyes, redness, inflammation, irritation, burning or stinging, itching, blurred vision, tired eyes, contact lens discomfort, a scratchy or grainy sensation, or the feeling that there is something “foreign” in your eyes. Other possible symptoms are excessive mucus discharge or watery discharge from the eyes, a sensitivity to light, and the feeling that your eyes are glued shut when you wake up.

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You may also want to visit our Dry Eye page, and view our interview on this subject with Dr. Latkany.

June 2, 2009 - 4:58pm
EmpowHER Guest

Chronic dry eyes are very common among women 45 years of age and older, due to the hormonal changes that occur causing internal dryness, or as referred to in Chinese medicine, a "deficiency in essential fluids".

The kidneys (meridians) in Chinese medicine are responsible for overall water metabolism in the body (along with other essential functions as growth, reproduction, fertility, sexual desire, bone and brain health.

The symptoms of Kidney yin (fluids) deficiency can include dry eyes, dry hair, dry skin, dizziness, poor memory, dry mouth at night, achy bones, constipation, night sweats and/or excessive thirst.

The treatment strategy in Chinese medicine is to "tonify" the kidney yin and help balance the hormones through acupuncture and herbs.

Other helpful products/nutrients include homeopathic eyedrops for dry eyes, MSM eyedrops, omega-3 fatty acids. omega-6 fatty acids in the form of black current or borage oil.

For more related information on nutrition and dry eyes, go to Natural Eye Care for Dry Eyes

June 2, 2009 - 4:40pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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