Dry Eye Syndrome (Dry Eyes, Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca)

  • Medical Author:
    Andrew A. Dahl, MD, FACS

    Andrew A. Dahl, MD, is a board-certified ophthalmologist. Dr. Dahl's educational background includes a BA with Honors and Distinction from Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT, and an MD from Cornell University, where he was selected for Alpha Omega Alpha, the national medical honor society. He had an internal medical internship at the New York Hospital/Cornell Medical Center.

  • Medical Editor: Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

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Can self-care treatments and remedies help alleviate dry eyes?

To help alleviate the symptoms of dry eye syndrome, certain self-care tips at home may help. A humidifier puts more moisture into the air. With more moisture in the air, tears evaporate more slowly, keeping the 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 the 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 a person has 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 the 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 one wishes to use tears more than six times a day. There is no single over-the-counter drop that is best for everybody. Each individual will determine which drop provides the most relief from symptoms. Some drops may have a longer time 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 vision if they are used during the day. Therefore, they are typically used to lubricate the eyes overnight during sleep.

If the eyes are dry mainly while reading or watching TV, taking frequent breaks to allow the eyes to rest and become moist and comfortable again is helpful. Closing the eyes for 10 seconds every five to 10 minutes will increase comfort, as will blinking more frequently.

Taking a fish oil (or other high quality source of omega-3 fatty acids) supplement every day can often be helpful in alleviating symptoms of dry eye.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/9/2015
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