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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What is the medical treatment for dry eye syndrome?

Although no cure exists for dry eye syndrome, many treatments are available. Treatment is dependent on the severity of dry eye syndrome; some people may only require a humidifier or occasional eye drops while others may require surgery to help decrease dry eyes.

Over-the-counter lubricating eye drops, commonly referred to as artificial tears, may help relieve dry eyes. Some examples of these products include 20/20 Tears, Celluvisc, Comfort Tears, Dry Eyes, Murine, Refresh, and Tears Naturale. An ophthalmologist may also prescribe medications to help with dry eye syndrome.

What medications are used to treat dry eye syndrome?

Certain prescription medications may help with dry eye syndrome. Eye lubricants may be prescribed, such as Lacrisert, an artificial tear insert. The insert is similar to a contact lens and is inserted 1-2 times per day. Cellulose is contained in the insert and acts to stabilize and thicken the film of tears over the eyes and to prolong the time the tear film works. The artificial tear insert must be properly inserted, otherwise corneal abrasion may occur.

Cyclosporine A 0.5% (Restasis) helps decrease any inflammation on the surface of the eye. This inflammation is thought to decrease the ability of the eyes to maintain a healthy tear film. Used twice a day, cyclosporine 0.5% helps people make more, healthier tears on their own. Corticosteroid drops (Lotemax, Alrex, FML, Vexol), either alone or used in conjunction with cyclosporine, reduce the signs and symptoms of dry eye. Although the FDA has not yet approved this group of drops for the treatment of dry eye syndrome, they are being successfully used by many ophthalmologists. Corticosteroid drops, if used in excess, may have some side effects, but new formulations with fewer side effects have become available. Like all medications, these should only be used under a doctor's supervision and according to her or his instructions. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drops (Voltaren, Acular, Nevanac, Xibrom) likewise reduce the inflammation associated with dry eye syndrome.

Antibiotics are used if a person has blepharitis or meibomian gland dysfunction. Antibiotic ophthalmic ointments, such as erythromycin and bacitracin, among others, are used at night for about 7-10 days to decrease the number of bacteria that break down the lipid layer of the tear film. These ointments also lubricate the eyes overnight. Oral antibiotics, particularly tetracycline and doxycycline, not only help to decrease the number of bacteria, but also help to make the oil more fluid so it flows out of the oil glands more easily. This is often used if a person has rosacea. There are many people who have rosacea of the eyelids, suffer from dry eye syndrome, and do not have the typical changes of rosacea on the rest of the face.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/9/2015
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