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 surgery treat dry eye syndrome?

Different minor surgical procedures may help decrease dry eye syndrome. Near the inner corner of each eyelid are small openings, called punctae, that are the beginning of the normal tear drainage system. Punctal occlusion helps by decreasing the normal drainage of the tears from the ocular surface and down the tear drainage system, into the back of the nose, and down the throat. This occlusion is usually a very simple office procedure and only takes a few minutes. Different punctal plugs or lacrimal canalicular plugs can be placed at or just inside these openings to block the normal drainage of tears down the tear drainage system. Just like a stopper placed in the drain of a sink keeps the water from flowing down the drain, these plugs keep the tears from flowing down the tear drainage system. Therefore, the eyes stay more moist and comfortable, even if one has fewer tears. These plugs can usually be removed very easily, if necessary. Sometimes, in severe cases of dry eye syndrome, these openings are permanently closed, usually by cautery (burning) or laser. This accomplishes the same thing as the plugs, but it is very difficult, if not impossible, to reverse.

If a person has difficulty closing the eyes for any reason, such as Bell's palsy, the eyes may dry out because of tear evaporation. Lateral tarsorrhaphy is a procedure during which the lateral (outside) one-third of the eyelids are sewn together to decrease the ability of the eye to open widely and to help the eyes close more easily. If stroke or nerve damage keeps the eyelids from closing properly, a small gold weight may be implanted into the upper eyelid to help it close.

What other therapies are used to treat dry eye syndrome?

Sometimes, people sleep with their eyes slightly open. If a person sleeps this way, he or she might want to actually tape the eyes shut at night.

Moisture chambers are plastic shields (similar to swim goggles) that help keep the eyes from drying out by decreasing the evaporation of tears off the eye. The moisture chambers may be used just at night if a person sleeps with their eyes slightly open, or they may be used all day, if necessary.

Medically reviewed by William Baer, MD; Board Certified Ophthalmology


Foster, C. Stephen, et al. "Dry Eye Syndrome." Medscape.com. 25 Jan. 2012. <http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1210417-overview>.

Lemp, Michael A. "Epidemiology and classification of dry eye." Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology 438 (1998): 791-803.

Moss, S. E., et al. "Prevalence of and risk factors for dry eye syndrome." Archives of Ophthalmology 118.9 (2000): 1264-1268.

Uchino, M., et al. "Prevalence and risk factors of dry eye disease in Japan: Koumi study." Opthalmology 118.12 (2011): 2361-2367.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/9/2015
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