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Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment for Severe Dry Eye Syndrome

Melissa Flagg, COA, OSC, has worked in the medical field for over two decades as an ophthalmic technician and is certified by JCAHPO.


What Is Dry Eye Syndrome?

Itching, watering/tearing, burning, redness, blurry or cloudy vision, foreign body sensation (like a lash under the lids), and light sensitivity are all symptoms of a common condition known as Dry Eye Syndrome.

It affects just about everyone at some point in their lives. Many people suffer this syndrome chronically, leading to the inability to perform day-to-day activities and functions. It can be very uncomfortable and, if left untreated, can lead to scar tissue that causes permanent vision loss.


Chronic dryness is also known by the medical term keratoconjunctivitis sicca. This term can be deceiving to patients since conjunctivitis is also the medical term for pink eye, which is viral conjunctivitis.

Keratoconjunctivitis specifically refers to the cornea. The prefix kerato in Latin means cornea. Keratoconjunctivitis sicca is a Latin term and literally means dry inflammation of the cornea and conjunctiva. Before we get into the chronic version of the disorder, let’s take a look at intermittent dry eyes and its causes.

Intermittent or Evaporative Dry Eyes

The intermittent version of the disorder, also called evaporative dry eyes, can be caused by a number of different things. The most common complaint is irritation when reading or working on a computer. What most people don’t know is that this is completely normal.

When working on a computer, or reading for long periods of time, we don’t blink as much as we would normally. Blinking rehydrates the cornea with a fresh layer of tears. Because we’re concentrating when doing tasks up close, such as reading, we blink less and the tear film on the cornea evaporates more quickly. This can cause irritation such as a foreign body sensation (a sandy feeling), redness, burning, itching, scratching, cloudy vision and even light sensitivity (photophobia).

To prevent the cornea from drying out, artificial tears can be used periodically. These “fake tears” won’t evaporate as quickly as your own tears even if you don’t blink frequently. Taking breaks from reading or computer work at least every 45 minutes to an hour, and focusing on something in the distance or simply walking around for ten or twenty minutes will refresh the tear film.