Dry eye syndrome (DES), also known as keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS), is the condition of having dry eyes. Other associated symptoms include irritation, redness, discharge, and easily fatigued eyes. Blurred vision may also occur. The symptoms can range from mild and occasional to severe and continuous. Scarring of the cornea may occur in some cases without treatment.
Dry eye occurs when either the eye does not produce enough tears or when the tears evaporate too quickly. This can result from contact lens use, meibomian gland dysfunction, allergies, pregnancy, Sjögren’s syndrome, vitamin A deficiency, LASIK surgery, and certain medications such as antihistamines, some blood pressure medication, hormone replacement therapy, and antidepressants. Chronic conjunctivitis such as from tobacco smoke exposure or infection may also lead to the condition. Diagnosis is mostly based on the symptoms, though a number of other tests may be used.
Treatment depends on the underlying cause. Artificial tears are the usual first line treatment. Wrap around glasses that fit close to the face may decrease tear evaporation. Stopping or changing certain medications may help. The medication ciclosporin or steroid eye drops may be used in some cases. Another option is lacrimal plugs that prevent tears from draining from the surface of the eye. Dry eye syndrome occasionally makes wearing contact lenses impossible.
Dry eye syndrome is a common eye disease. It affects 5–34% of people to some degree depending on the population looked at. Among older people it affects up to 70%. In China it affects about 17% of people. The phrase “keratoconjunctivitis sicca” means “dryness of the cornea and conjunctiva” in Latin.
Signs and symptoms
Typical symptoms of dry eye syndrome are dryness, burning and a sandy-gritty eye irritation that gets worse as the day goes on. Symptoms may also be described as itchy, scratchy, stinging or tired eyes. Other symptoms are pain, redness, a pulling sensation, and pressure behind the eye. There may be a feeling that something, such as a speck of dirt, is in the eye. The resultant damage to the eye surface increases discomfort and sensitivity to bright light. Both eyes usually are affected.
There may also be a stringy discharge from the eyes. Although it may seem strange, dry eye can cause the eyes to water. This can happen because the eyes are irritated. One may experience excessive tearing in the same way as one would if something got into the eye. These reflex tears will not necessarily make the eyes feel better. This is because they are the watery type that are produced in response to injury, irritation, or emotion. They do not have the lubricating qualities necessary to prevent dry eye.
Because blinking coats the eye with tears, symptoms are worsened by activities in which the rate of blinking is reduced due to prolonged use of the eyes. These activities include prolonged reading, computer usage, driving, or watching television. Symptoms increase in windy, dusty or smoky (including cigarette smoke) areas, in dry environments high altitudes including airplanes, on days with low humidity, and in areas where an air conditioner (especially in a car), fan, heater, or even a hair dryer is being used. Symptoms reduce during cool, rainy, or foggy weather and in humid places, such as in the shower.
Most people who have dry eyes experience mild irritation with no long-term effects. However, if the condition is left untreated or becomes severe, it can produce complications that can cause eye damage, resulting in impaired vision or (rarely) in the loss of vision.
Symptom assessment is a key component of dry eye diagnosis – to the extent that many believe dry eye syndrome to be a symptom-based disease. Several questionnaires have been developed to determine a score that would allow for dry eye diagnosis. The McMonnies & Ho dry eye questionnaire is often used in clinical studies of dry eyes.
Having dry eyes for a while can lead to tiny abrasions on the surface of the eyes. In advanced cases, the epithelium undergoes pathologic changes, namely squamous metaplasia and loss of goblet cells. Some severe cases result in thickening of the corneal surface, corneal erosion, punctate keratopathy, epithelial defects, corneal ulceration (sterile and infected), corneal neovascularization, corneal scarring, corneal thinning, and even corneal perforation.
Another contributing factor may be lacritin monomer deficiency. Lacritin monomer, active form of lacritin, is selectively decreased in aqueous deficient dry eye, Sjogren’s syndrome dry eye, contact lens-related dry eye and in blepharitis.
Dry eyes can usually be diagnosed by the symptoms alone. Tests can determine both the quantity and the quality of the tears. A slit lamp examination can be performed to diagnose dry eyes and to document any damage to the eye.
A Schirmer’s test can measure the amount of moisture bathing the eye. This test is useful for determining the severity of the condition. A five-minute Schirmer’s test with and without anesthesia using a Whatman #41 filter paper 5 mm wide by 35 mm long is performed. For this test, wetting under 5 mm with or without anesthesia is considered diagnostic for dry eyes.
If the results for the Schirmer’s test are abnormal, a Schirmer II test can be performed to measure reflex secretion. In this test, the nasal mucosa is irritated with a cotton-tipped applicator, after which tear production is measured with a Whatman #41 filter paper. For this test, wetting under 15 mm after five minutes is considered abnormal.
A tear breakup time (TBUT) test measures the time it takes for tears to break up in the eye. The tear breakup time can be determined after placing a drop of fluorescein in the cul-de-sac.
A tear protein analysis test measures the lysozyme contained within tears. In tears, lysozyme accounts for approximately 20 to 40 percent of total protein content.
A lactoferrin analysis test provides good correlation with other tests.
The presence of the recently described molecule Ap4A, naturally occurring in tears, is abnormally high in different states of ocular dryness. This molecule can be quantified biochemically simply by taking a tear sample with a plain Schirmer test. Utilizing this technique it is possible to determine the concentrations of Ap4A in the tears of patients and in such way diagnose objectively if the samples are indicative of dry eye.
The Tear Osmolarity Test has been proposed as a test for dry eye disease. Tear osmolarity may be a more sensitive method of diagnosing and grading the severity of dry eye compared to corneal and conjunctival staining, tear break-up time, Schirmer test, and meibomian gland grading. Others have recently questioned the utility of tear osmolarity in monitoring dry eye treatment.
Avoiding refractive surgery (LASIK & PRK), limiting contact lens use, limiting computer screen use, avoiding environmental conditions and refrain from using certain antihistamines which can increase prevalence of symptoms. Complications can be prevented by use of wetting and lubricating drops and ointments.
Keratoconjunctivitis sicca usually is a chronic problem. Its prognosis shows considerable variance, depending upon the severity of the condition. Most people have mild-to-moderate cases, and can be treated symptomatically with lubricants. This provides an adequate relief of symptoms.
When dry eyes symptoms are severe, they can interfere with quality of life. People sometimes feel their vision blurs with use, or severe irritation to the point that they have trouble keeping their eyes open or they may not be able to work or drive.
Keratoconjunctivitis sicca is relatively common within the United States, especially so in older patients. Specifically, the persons most likely to be affected by dry eyes are those aged 40 or older. 10-20% of adults experience Keratoconjunctivitis sicca. Approximately 1 to 4 million adults (age 65-84) in the USA are effected.
While persons with autoimmune diseases have a high likelihood of having dry eyes, most persons with dry eyes do not have an autoimmune disease. Instances of Sjögren syndrome and keratoconjunctivitis sicca associated with it are present much more commonly in women, with a ratio of 9:1. In addition, milder forms of keratoconjunctivitis sicca also are more common in women. This is partly because hormonal changes, such as those that occur in pregnancy, menstruation, and menopause, can decrease tear production.
In areas of the world where malnutrition is common, vitamin A deficiency is a common cause. This is rare in the United States.
Racial predilections do not exist for this disease.