The Latest Thinking on Dry Eye Treatments

Dry Eye is a common condition that affects millions of people globally. It is characterized by insufficient tears or poor quality of tears that cause discomfort, irritation, and even vision problems. The sensation of gritty or scratchy eyes, redness, and sensitivity to light are some of the common symptoms of Dry Eye. The treatment of Dry Eye can be challenging, and the lack of effective treatments can lead to chronic discomfort and vision impairment.

The prevalence of Dry Eye varies depending on the population studied and the diagnostic criteria used. In the United States alone, an estimated 16 million adults have been diagnosed with Dry Eye. Studies suggest that the condition is more prevalent in people over the age of 50, women, contact lens wearers, and those with underlying medical conditions such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus.

The Importance of Effective Treatments for Dry Eye cannot be overemphasized. Without adequate treatment, this condition can worsen and lead to vision problems, decreased quality of life, and even depression. Effective management of Dry Eye symptoms can improve overall eye health, reduce discomfort, and prevent long-term damage to the eyes.

Causes of Dry Eye

Age and Hormonal Changes

Dry Eye is a common condition that becomes more prevalent as we age. As we grow older, our bodies produce fewer tears, and those tears have less moisture. Hormonal changes, such as those that occur during menopause, can also reduce tear production. Women are also more prone to developing Dry Eye than men, likely due to hormonal changes associated with menstruation and pregnancy.

Environmental Factors

The environment in which we live and work can also contribute to Dry Eye. Exposure to dry, dusty, or windy conditions can irritate the eyes and cause excessive tear evaporation. Spending long hours in front of screens can also lead to Dry Eye due to reduced blinking. Air conditioning and heating systems, particularly in offices, can also dry out the eyes.

Medical Conditions

Several medical conditions can cause or exacerbate Dry Eye symptoms. These include autoimmune diseases such as Sjogren's syndrome, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis. Chronic inflammation of the eyelids, called blepharitis, can also lead to Dry Eye. Other medical conditions that can cause Dry Eye include diabetes, thyroid disorders, and vitamin A deficiency.


Several medications can cause Dry Eye as a side effect. These include antihistamines, decongestants, antidepressants, and medications for high blood pressure. Hormone replacement therapy and birth control pills can also reduce tear production and cause Dry Eye in some women. If you experience Dry Eye symptoms and are taking any of these medications, it is important to talk to your doctor about alternative options.

Conventional Treatments for Dry Eye

There are several conventional treatments available for Dry Eye that can provide relief for patients with mild to moderate symptoms. These include:

Artificial Tears

Artificial tears come in the form of eye drops that mimic the composition of natural tears. They are available over the counter and can be used as often as needed to relieve dryness, redness, and other associated symptoms. Artificial tears can be a convenient and affordable option for many patients with mild to moderate Dry Eye symptoms.

Prescription Eye Drops

If artificial tears are not effective in relieving symptoms, prescription eye drops may be recommended. These eye drops contain medications that reduce inflammation and increase tear production. They are typically prescribed for moderate to severe cases of Dry Eye and may have potential side effects, such as burning and stinging sensations.

Punctal Plugs

Punctal plugs are small devices that are inserted into the tear ducts to block the drainage of tears. This can help to keep tears on the surface of the eye for a longer period, reducing dryness and other associated symptoms. Punctal plugs are usually considered for patients with moderate to severe Dry Eye symptoms that are not adequately relieved with artificial tears or prescription eye drops.

LipiFlow Treatment

LipiFlow is a relatively new treatment for Dry Eye that involves the use of a thermal pulsation system. The system applies heat and gentle pressure to the eyelids to stimulate the meibomian glands, which are responsible for producing the lipid layer of tears. This can help to improve the quality and quantity of tears and alleviate Dry Eye symptoms. LipiFlow treatment is typically recommended for patients with moderate to severe Dry Eye symptoms and may require multiple sessions for optimal results.

Emerging Treatments for Dry Eye

While conventional treatments for Dry Eye can be effective for many patients with mild to moderate symptoms, some people may require more advanced and innovative approaches to achieve the desired relief from their Dry Eye symptoms. Fortunately, there are several emerging treatments that are showing promising results and gaining popularity among patients and healthcare providers alike. These include:

Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplements

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential nutrients that play a crucial role in many bodily functions, including eye health. Several studies have suggested that a diet rich in omega-3s can help to reduce Dry Eye symptoms. Omega-3 fatty acid supplements, such as fish oil capsules or flaxseed oil pills, can be a convenient way to boost the levels of these nutrients in your body and potentially alleviate Dry Eye symptoms. However, the effectiveness of omega-3 supplements may vary from person to person and can take several weeks or months to produce noticeable improvements.

Intense Pulsed Light Therapy

Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) therapy is a non-invasive and painless procedure that uses pulses of light to stimulate the function of the meibomian glands in the eyelids. IPL therapy can help to reduce inflammation, kill bacteria, and improve the quality and quantity of tears. IPL therapy is quickly gaining popularity among healthcare providers as a safe and effective alternative to conventional Dry Eye treatments like eye drops and punctal plugs.

Topical cyclosporine

Cyclosporine is a medication that is typically used to prevent organ rejection in transplant patients. However, topical cyclosporine (in the form of eye drops) has been approved by the FDA as a treatment for Dry Eye. Cyclosporine eye drops work by reducing inflammation and improving tear production over time. The treatment is typically prescribed for patients with moderate to severe Dry Eye symptoms who have not responded to other treatments.

Autologous Serum Drops

Autologous Serum Drops are custom-made eye drops that are created from a patient's own blood serum. The drops contain several beneficial factors, including growth factors, cytokines, and immunoglobulins, that can help to nourish and protect the surface of the eyes and alleviate Dry Eye symptoms. Autologous Serum Drops are usually recommended for patients with severe Dry Eye or those who have not responded to other treatments.

Lifestyle Changes to Improve Dry Eye Symptoms

Aside from medical treatments, several simple lifestyle modifications can help to manage Dry Eye symptoms effectively. If you're experiencing Dry Eye, try incorporating the following practices into your daily routine:


Dehydration can contribute to Dry Eye symptoms, as it leads to reduced tear production and poor tear quality. Drinking plenty of water throughout the day can help to keep your body hydrated and may alleviate Dry Eye symptoms.

Blinking Exercises

Blinking is a natural process through which tears are spread across the surface of the eye, providing lubrication and hydration. Many people with Dry Eye tend to blink less frequently than others, which can worsen symptoms. Blinking exercises involve consciously blinking more frequently and can help to reduce symptoms of Dry Eye. Try taking a few minutes each hour to blink slowly and deliberately, or set a timer reminder to blink regularly.

Proper Eyelid Care

Keeping your eyelids clean and free of debris can help to reduce the risk of infection and inflammation, which can worsen Dry Eye. Be sure to gently cleanse your eyelids with warm water and a mild soap or eyelid scrub each day. Avoiding rubbing your eyes, as this can further irritate the delicate tissues and exacerbate Dry Eye symptoms.

Humidifiers and Air Filters

Dry air can worsen Dry Eye symptoms by evaporating tears quickly and reducing overall moisture in the eyes. Using a humidifier can help to add moisture to the air and may alleviate Dry Eye symptoms. Additionally, air filters can help to remove irritants and allergens from the air, reducing overall inflammation and irritation in the eyes.


Dry Eye is a highly prevalent condition that can cause significant discomfort and impact quality of life. Fortunately, there are many effective treatments available that can help to alleviate Dry Eye symptoms and improve overall eye health.

While current treatments offer effective management of Dry Eye symptoms for many people, ongoing research is crucial to developing more targeted and effective treatments. In the future, we may see developments in areas such as gene therapy, regenerative medicine, and targeted immunomodulation for Dry Eye.

If you are experiencing symptoms of Dry Eye, it is important to seek professional treatment. An eye doctor can help to diagnose your condition and recommend appropriate treatment options. Untreated Dry Eye may lead to complications such as corneal damage and vision loss, so it's essential to address the issue promptly.

Remember, Dry Eye is a common and treatable condition, and you don't have to suffer needlessly. Reach out to a healthcare professional today to start finding relief from Dry Eye symptoms!

William H. McDaniel, MD

Dr. Robert H. Shmerling is the former clinical chief of the division of rheumatology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), and is a current member of the corresponding faculty in medicine at Harvard Medical School.

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