Any condition that can cause the eyes to become dry. Tears, made by the lacrimal glands, bathe the surface of the eye, keeping it moist and washing away dirt and other types of debris. They also protect the eye from infections. Dry eye can be caused by chronic inflammation of the lacrimal glands or the conjunctiva (the membrane lining the inner surface of the eye) as well as immune system disorders such as Sjogren’s syndrome, systemic lupus erythematosus, and rheumatoid arthritis. Dry eye disease can cause stinging, burning, redness, pain, a sandy or gritty feeling in the eye, or eye fatigue. It can make wearing contact lenses uncomfortable and decrease tolerance for reading, working at a computer, driving, or any activity that requires sustained visual attention. Left untreated, dry eye can cause pain, ulcers, or scars on the cornea, as well as some vision loss — though permanent vision loss is rare.
Doctors can treat dry eye in several ways, depending on the underlying causes. The only prescription medication specifically approved for treating dry eye is cyclosporine, an anti-inflammatory drug that decreases damage to the cornea, stimulates tear production, and alleviates the symptoms. It may take cyclosporine three to six months at a twice-a-day dosage to work. In some cases of severe dry eye, corticosteroid drops can be used over the short term to decrease inflammation.