Once dry eye syndrome develops, some people have recurring episodes for the rest of their lives.
There is no cure for dry eye syndrome, but a range of treatments can control your symptoms. In rare cases, more severe cases of dry eye syndrome may require surgery.
Underlying medical conditions
If you have an underlying medical condition that is causing dry eye syndrome, your GP will prescribe treatment for it.
Most people with dry eye syndrome also have blepharitis, which is a common and usually mild condition that causes inflammation (redness and swelling) of the rims of the eyelids. Treatment for blepharitis is based on good eye hygiene. See Dry eye syndrome - self care for more information.
See the Health A-Z topic about Blepharitis for more information about the condition.
If your underlying condition is a complex one, such as HIV or lupus, you will need to be referred to a specialist for treatment if you are not already receiving treatment for the condition.
Different types of medicines can also be prescribed as necessary. See the Health A-Z to find out more information about these conditions.
To treat your dry eye syndrome, the specialist will address any possible triggers of the condition, such as medicines or environmental factors, before trying to eliminate them.
It is possible to make changes to compensate for environmental factors. For example, placing a humidifier in your home to reduce dryness, or changing your work habits to rest your eyes.
See Dry eye syndrome - self care for more details about the changes that you can make. If these measures are not successful, there are a number of other treatments that can be tried. These are described below.
Mild to moderate cases of dry eye syndrome can usually be successfully treated using eye drops that contain 'tear substitutes', a liquid that is designed to mimic the properties of tears. These eye drops are available without a prescription over-the-counter (OTC) from a pharmacy.
There are many different types of eye drops, so you can switch if your original choice does not work.
Some eye drops contain a preservative that helps to prevent evaporation. If you have severe symptoms and you need to use these eye drops more than six times a day, use preservative-free eye drops.
This is because the preservative can sometimes irritate your eye. Your GP or pharmacist will be able to advise you about an alternative. If you wear soft contact lenses, you may also need to use a tear substitute that is preservative free. Preservative-free eye drops may be more expensive.
Eye ointment can also be used to help lubricate your eyes. However, it can often cause blurred vision, so it is probably best to use it last thing at night.
If you wear contact lenses, do not use eye ointments that contain paraffin. Ask your pharmacist or GP for advice about which ointments may be suitable for you.
Some cases of dry eye syndrome can be treated using specialist eyeware. These include specially made glasses called moisture chamber spectacles. These wrap around your eyes like goggles, helping to retain moisture and protecting your eyes from irritants.
Moisture chamber spectacles used to be unpopular because they had a strange design and people were embarrassed to wear them. However, they are now becoming a more popular treatment option because the modern designs look like sports sunglasses.
If your previous contact lenses were causing dry eye syndrome, specially designed contact lenses are also available.
If your dry eyes fail to respond to other forms of treatment, surgery may be an option. Two potential types of surgery are described below.
One surgical technique, known as punctal occlusion, involves using small plugs, called punctual plugs, to seal your tear ducts. This means that your tears will not drain into the tear ducts, and your eyes should remain moist.
Temporary plugs that are made of silicone are normally used first to determine whether the operation has a positive effect. If it does, more permanent plugs can replace the silicone ones.
Salivary gland autotransplantation
Another surgical technique for treating very severe dry eye syndrome is known as salivary gland autotransplantation. This procedure is usually only recommended after all other treatment options have been tried.
Salivary gland autotransplantation involves removing from your lower lip some of the glands that produce saliva, and placing or grafting them into the side of your eyes. The saliva that is produced by the glands acts as a substitute for tears.
Inflammation is the body's response to infection, irritation or injury, which causes redness, swelling, pain
and sometimes a feeling of heat in the affected area.