What Is Dry Eye Syndrome?

Dry Eye Syndrome (DES) is among the most common conditions we see in our patients at Eye Specialists of Mid Florida. The American Academy of Ophthalmology estimates that approximately 5 million Americans are affected by dry eyes. Prevalence increases with age, and women tend to be more susceptible, likely due to hormonal changes throughout life. Although most dry eye is mild, it can become a serious issue that dramatically impacts vision, comfort, and quality of life.

Understanding dry eye and what causes it requires a bit of understanding about the structure of the eye and the film of tears that covers it. The tear film consists of three layers:

  • A lipid (oily) layer covers the outside of the tear film, creating a lubricating, smooth surface and slowing down the evaporation of the tears. This is produced by a network of glands in the eyelids called Meibomian glands.
  • An aqueous (watery) layer is the middle of the tear film, which cleans the surface of the eye and washes away any foreign debris. This is produced by the lacrimal glands of the eyelids.
  • A mucus layer is the innermost part of the tear film and helps to ensure that the rest of the tears adhere properly and are evenly spread out over the surface of the eye. Certain cells within the cornea secrete this mucus.


A problem with any of these layers will result in poor tear function and dry eye syndrome. The two most common types stem from deficiencies in the aqueous layer and the lipid layer. Aqueous deficient dry eye arises from decreased lacrimal gland activity, and lipid deficient dry eye, called Meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD), arises from either decreased oil production or a blockage of the Meibomian ducts that carry the oils to the surface of the eye. Both cases lead to a poor quality tear film that cannot perform the basic functions of keeping the eye smooth, clean, and lubricated. This results in symptoms of scratchiness, grittiness, burning, stinging, redness, foreign body sensation, and light sensitivity. Long term the friction of the lid rubbing on the eye can lead to inflammation, corneal abrasions or erosions, scarring, and potentially vision loss.

Proper diagnosis of dry eye syndrome requires careful examination to rule out other, often similar feeling eye conditions such as allergic conjunctivitis or infection. Your doctor may perform different tests to determine the amount of tears you produce and their quality. This is vitally important, as there is no one-size-fits-all treatment approach to dry eye. Aqueous dry eye is managed differently than Meibomian gland dysfunction. Some types of treatment aim to restore normal production volume while others focus on ensuring proper flow and balance of oil to aqueous in the tears. While there is currently no cure for dry eye syndrome, it can be successfully managed with the right treatment. The doctors at Eye Specialists of Mid-Florida are here to help with your dry eye issues. Visit their website www.eyesfl.com or call 800-282-3937 to schedule your next eye exam. #2020YourVisionOurFocus


Bio: Daniel Smith, O.D. is an optometrist that practices at Eye Specialists of Mid-Florida at their Clermont location.  

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