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What is dry eye syndrome?

Dry eye syndrome - sometimes called keratoconjunctivitis sicca - is a condition in which the eyes can't make enough tears, or the tears evaporate too quickly. This can cause the eyes to become dry, inflamed and uncomfortable.

The most common cause of excessive tear evaporation is blockage and dysfunction of the Meibomian oil glands in the eyelids, which is also known as posterior blepharitis.

Dry eye syndrome is a common condition, with up to a third of people experiencing it at some point in their life. While anyone can develop dry eye syndrome, it's most common in people over the age of 60. The condition is also more common in women than men.

The symptoms of dry eye syndrome can be mild, moderate or severe and may include:

  • Feelings of dryness, grittiness or soreness in both eyes, which get worse as the day goes on
  • Redness of the eyes
  • Watery eyes, particularly when exposed to wind
  • Eyelids stuck together on waking up
  • Eyes feel worse first thing in the morning
  • Burning feeling in eyelids, or itchy eyelids, red rims of eyelids

Dry eye syndrome is not normally serious. There are rare cases, however, when severe untreated dry eye syndrome has caused visual impairment and scarring of the eye's surface. You should therefore visit your GP as soon as possible if you have any of the following:

  • Extreme sensitivity to light
  • Extremely red eyes
  • Eyes that are very painful
  • Deterioration of vision

Please click the section headings on the right hand side of this page to find out more about the causes, diagnosis and treatment of dry eye syndrome. You can also download fact sheets and use 'Links' to access further information.