Dry eye syndrome, also known as dry eye disease, comprises two main types: aqueous tear-deficient dry eye and evaporative dry eye.

Although there are two categories, a person can have a combination of both types.

This article looks at the different types of dry eye in more depth.

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Those with evaporative dry eyes produce the typical amount of tears, but these evaporate too quickly from the eye’s surface.

It most commonly occurs due to meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD), which refers to a blockage or issue in the glands that produce the oil layer of the tear film.

The main symptom includes eye discomfort. A person may experience:

A person may also have watery eyes, which occurs when the eyes produce more tears as a reflex to this dryness.

Aqueous tear deficiency occurs when the lacrimal glands do not produce enough tears to maintain a healthy eye surface. It is less common than evaporative dry eye, accounting for only one-tenth of dry eye cases.

Causes of aqueous tear deficiency include:

  • Sjögren disease, either as the main cause or a result of another cause
  • inflammation or dysfunction of the lacrimal gland
  • a blockage in the lacrimal gland
  • systemic medications, such as decongestants and antihistamines

Healthcare professionals may divide aqueous tear deficiency into Sjögren disease-related and non-Sjögren disease-related.

Symptoms include:

  • persistent dryness
  • eye redness
  • irritation or grittiness
  • eye fatigue
  • intermittent blurred vision
  • light sensitivity
  • watery eyes

Risk factors can include:

  • environmental triggers, such as dry, windy, or smoky environments
  • prolonged screen time
  • wearing contact lenses
  • certain medications, such as antihistamines, decongestants, and some blood pressure medications
  • certain skin conditions, such as rosacea, which can increase the risk of MGD
  • getting older
  • being female due to hormonal changes during pregnancy and menopause as well as taking oral contraceptives
  • laser eye surgery
  • injury or inflammation of the tear glands

Certain medical conditions can also cause dry eye, including:

Treating dry eye syndrome involves a combination of approaches tailored to the specific type and severity of the condition. Some common strategies for managing dry eye include:

  • artificial tears and lubricating eye drops
  • prescription eye drops
  • punctal plugs
  • meibomian gland expression
  • warm compresses and eyelid massage
  • avoiding dry or windy environments
  • using a humidifier
  • taking breaks during prolonged computer use
  • wearing wraparound glasses outdoors
  • lipid-based eye drops
  • regular cleaning of the eyelids with mild soap or eyelid-cleansing products
  • specialty contact lenses
  • in-office procedures, such as thermal pulsation or intense pulsed light
  • surgical procedures

People should contact a doctor for dry eye if they:

  • experience symptoms that:
    • are persistent
    • are severe
    • get worse
    • develop after an eye procedure
    • begin after hormonal changes
    • interfere with their daily activities
  • experience symptoms of dry eye alongside other symptoms, such as eye discharge, blurred vision, and light sensitivity
  • have an autoimmune condition

The outlook for people with dry eye syndrome varies depending on the underlying cause and severity and how well they and doctors can manage the condition.

In general, while dry eye can be a chronic condition, people can relieve symptoms and prevent potential complications with appropriate treatment and management.

Here are the answers to some commonly asked questions about dry eyes.

What are the symptoms of dry eyes?

The symptoms include a feeling of dryness, scratchiness or grittiness in the eyes, redness, a sensation of having something in the eyes, sensitivity to light, blurred vision, and eye fatigue.

Sometimes, a person can develop excessive tearing as a reflex to the dryness.

How can a person cure dry eyes permanently?

Permanently curing dry eyes is challenging as it often involves managing underlying causes, which can be chronic.

Treatment usually aims to ease symptoms and may involve artificial tears, prescription medications, lifestyle changes, and, in some cases, surgical procedures. However, these do not guarantee a permanent cure.

Why do I have dry eye in one eye?

A dry eye in one eye could be due to an imbalance in tear production or drainage in one eye, a previous injury or surgery affecting an eye, or a localized eyelid condition.

Environmental factors or habits like sleeping on one side may also contribute.

What is the most common form of dry eye syndrome?

Evaporative dry eye is a major cause of dry eye that typically occurs due to meibomian gland dysfunction.

What is the difference between dry eyes and dry eye syndrome?

Dry eyes generally refers to the temporary condition of eye dryness, possibly due to factors such as wind, air conditioning, or screen use.

Dry eye syndrome is a chronic, often progressive condition involving a consistent lack of sufficient lubrication and moisture in the eyes. It requires ongoing management.

There are two main types of dry eye: aqueous tear-deficient dry eye and evaporative dry eye.

An eye care professional can conduct a thorough examination, determine the underlying cause of dry eye, and recommend an appropriate treatment plan.

Timely intervention can help prevent potential complications and improve overall eye health and comfort.