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Dry eye - Symptoms, Causes and Care

Dry eye is one of the most common conditions affecting millions of people throughout the world every day.

In the last decade, new research and technology have led eye care professionals to a much more advanced understanding of dry eye.

Dry eye symptoms include itchiness, stinging or burning, occasional blurred vision, redness and tired eyes.

Dry eyes can be a common problem for people who wear contact lenses. If you are wearing contact lenses incorrectly they can aggravate the eye surface and cause dry eye problems.

Diagnosing dry eye

Dry eye disease is classified as a ‘multifactorial disease,’ which means that it is caused by a variety of reasons, so the first step to the treatment of dry eye disease is determining the real reasons behind a person’s eye irritation.

Basically, dry eye disease stems from the quality or quantity of either water or oil in the tears.

Every time we blink, the little lacrimal glands in the upper eyelids secrete a dose of salty water that the eyelid spreads across the eye. At the same time, meibomian glands (also in the eyelids) secrete a dose of oil over the watery tear fluid to keep it from evaporating too quickly.

Not enough water

‘Aqueous-deficient’ dry eye means that the lacrimal glands which produce the water in tears aren’t functioning properly.

Not enough oil

‘Evaporative dry eye’ is a lack of oils in the tears and is usually traced to meibomian gland dysfunction, the most common type of dry eye (affecting approximately 85% of people with dry eye symptoms).

A person may have aqueous deficient dry eye or evaporative dry eye, or both at the same time. To find out, your optometrist will perform a comprehensive eye exam, including an evaluation of the quality and quantity of the tears produced by the eye.

Once the optometrist determines what kind of dry eye you have, and how severe it is, they will tailor a treatment plan to fix it.

Treating dry eye

There is no single approach to dry eye treatment that will suit all patients.

For many people with mild or occasional dry eye symptoms, dry eye treatment can be as simple as the frequent use of over-the-counter artificial tears or lubricating eye drops.

Artificial tears

The goal of dry eye treatment is to reduce symptoms of dry eyes and improve function. Dry eye treatment is something of an art, requiring a tailored approach for each individual patient.

Warm compress

If your optometrist suspects that you have evaporative dry eye due to meibomian gland dysfunction, they may apply warm compresses to the patient’s closed eyes to help reduce eyelid inflammation.

Warm compresses rest on the eyelids for approximately 10 minutes, will open the clogged meibomian glands by softening the hardened oils trapped in them.


Your optometrist may provide an in-chair procedure involving a pair of heated goggles, similar in appearance to swimming goggles, that provide a warm, humid environment around the closed eyes, effectively melting the clogged oils in the meibomian glands.

Following use of the goggles, the optometrist may apply pressure to the eyelids to express the meibomian glands and press out the blocked oil glands.

Intense Pulse Light (IPL) treatment

To treat severe meibomian gland dysfunction, your optometrist may suggest IPL treatment, where a series of painless pulses of light are applied to the lower eyelid to stimulate the meibomian glands.

The positive effects of IPL are cumulative. Sessions usually take approximately 10 minutes each and are performed over a series of four visits.

Discuss dry eye with your Eyecare Plus optometrist

While some people experience mild dry eye symptoms that can be treated with over-the-counter eye drops, other people may have more severe symptoms that require an eye care professional to treat dry eyes.

If you are experiencing eye infections, increased tear evaporation, decreased tear production or moderate symptoms of dry eyes, you need to speak with an eye care professional about your eye health. An eye care professional will determine your risk factors and treat dry eye symptoms to help relieve symptoms.

About the Author

Glenn Vessey, M.Sc. Optom FACO Grad.Dip.Oc.Therapy