Dry Eyes: Diagnosis and Treatment

Dry Eyes: Diagnosis and Treatment

Diagnosis is the first step in managing the dry eye syndrome. It is an integrated approach that involves a comprehensive eye exam, symptoms evaluation, medical history evaluation, determining the quality and quantity of tears, examining the ocular surface for any possible damage, and assessing the health of meibomian glands. 

To gain a more in-depth analysis of your ocular health and tear film, you will need specialized tests. Since dry eye disease is characterized by a lack of tear production, Schirmer’s test evaluates tear production. Other specialized tests include the Tear Breakup time test, the tear osmolarity measurement, and inflammation assessment. 

Correct diagnosis makes managing dry eye syndrome easier. A wide range of treatment options are available that can reduce dry eye symptoms.  You can opt for over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription eye drops for less severe symptoms. Treatment options for more severe dry eye disease are varied. Therapies such as punctual occlusions, LipiFlow, and intense pulsed light are among these.

For some individuals with dry eye, therapeutic contact lenses can be a valuable option. These lenses are designed to retain moisture, providing relief and improving comfort for those who experience discomfort with regular contact lenses or glasses.

Finally, lifestyle changes and some home remedies can also help alleviate dry eye symptoms like a burning sensation.

How is Dry Eye Syndrome Diagnosed?

Diagnosing dry eye syndrome is a precise and comprehensive process that involves a multifaceted evaluation of your eye health. Understanding the steps taken in this diagnostic journey is essential for anyone seeking relief from the discomfort of dry eyes.

Symptom Evaluation

The journey to a dry eye diagnosis often begins with your self-report of symptoms. These symptoms may include sensations of dryness, itching, burning, gritty or sandy feeling, excessive tearing, light sensitivity, and intermittent blurred vision.

It's crucial to provide your healthcare provider with detailed information about when these symptoms started, their frequency, severity, and any potential triggers.

Medical History

Your medical history is a crucial piece of the puzzle. Certain medical conditions and medications can contribute to or exacerbate dry eye symptoms. Be prepared to discuss any underlying health issues and the medications you're currently taking.

Conditions such as autoimmune diseases (e.g., Sjögren's syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis), diabetes, thyroid disorders, and allergies can influence the likelihood of developing dry eye.

Comprehensive Eye Exam

A comprehensive eye exam is the foundation of dry eye diagnosis. During this examination, an eye care specialist (ophthalmologist or optometrist) will meticulously assess the overall health of your eyes, looking beyond the surface to identify underlying issues.

Components of this exam include checking visual acuity, assessing the eyelids and lashes, inspecting the cornea and conjunctiva, and evaluating the tear film.

Visual Acuity Assessment

Visual acuity is a fundamental aspect of any eye examination. It measures how clearly you can see at various distances. The familiar eye chart with rows of letters is used for this purpose.

While visual acuity testing primarily assesses your need for corrective lenses, it can also reveal how dry eye may be affecting your vision. Dry eye can cause fluctuating vision and blurred or hazy eyesight.

Eyelids and Lashes Evaluation

The condition of your eyelids and lashes is a critical factor in diagnosing dry eye. An eye care specialist will inspect the eyelids for signs of inflammation, redness, or irritation.

The state of your eyelashes is also assessed, as meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD) can lead to misdirected or missing eyelashes. MGD is a common contributor to evaporative dry eye.

Cornea and Conjunctiva Inspection

The cornea, the clear front surface of the eye, and the conjunctiva, the thin membrane covering the whites of the eyes, are closely examined. This evaluation helps identify any signs of corneal damage or inflammation.

Dry eye can cause corneal surface irregularities, which may be visible during this examination. It can also lead to conjunctival redness or irritation.

Tear Film Evaluation

One of the most critical aspects of assessing dry eye is the evaluation of the tear film. The tear film consists of three key layers: oil, water, and mucus. An imbalance or dysfunction in any of these layers can contribute to dry eye.

The tear film is assessed through various tests, including the Schirmer test, tear breakup time (TBUT), and examination of tear meniscus height. These tests help determine tear quality, quantity, and stability.

Additionally, the presence of inflammatory markers in the tear film may indicate underlying inflammation associated with dry eye.

Meibomian Gland Assessment

The meibomian glands, located along the eyelid margins, play a pivotal role in tear film stability. Dysfunction of these glands is a common cause of evaporative dry eye.

Meibomian gland assessment involves evaluating the gland's expression and function. Techniques such as meibomian gland expression or imaging may be employed to assess the health of these glands.

Evaluation of Ocular Surface

The overall condition of the ocular surface is examined, looking for signs of inflammation, irritation, or corneal damage. In some cases, staining with special dyes may be used to highlight any abnormalities.

Specialized Tests for Dry Eye

While a comprehensive eye exam provides a solid foundation for diagnosing dry eye, specialized tests offer deeper insights into the specific aspects of your tear film and ocular health. These tests are invaluable in confirming the presence of dry eye, understanding its underlying causes, and tailoring an effective treatment plan. Let's explore some of the key specialized tests used in dry eye diagnosis:

Schirmer's Test

The Schirmer's test is a time-tested method to evaluate tear production. It involves placing a small strip of filter paper under the lower eyelid of each eye. The paper is left in place for a specific period, typically five minutes.

During this time, your eyes naturally produce tears, and the amount of wetting on the filter paper is measured. A lower measurement indicates reduced tear production, a hallmark of dry eye.

This test helps quantify the quantity of tears your eyes produce, providing essential information for diagnosing dry eye and assessing its severity.

Tear Breakup Time (TBUT) Test

Tear film stability is a critical factor in dry eye. The TBUT test assesses how stable your tear film is by measuring the time it takes for a dry spot to appear on the cornea after blinking.

To perform this test, a special dye is applied to the surface of your eye. You'll be asked to blink, and then the time until the first dry spot forms is recorded.

A shorter TBUT suggests that your tear film breaks up quickly, leading to dry spots on the cornea. This indicates tear film instability, a common feature of dry eye.

Tear Osmolarity Measurement

Tear osmolarity measurement is a more recent but highly informative test in dry eye diagnosis. It assesses the salt concentration in your tears.

Dry eye often results in an imbalance of tear composition, with an elevated osmolarity level being a hallmark. This test helps pinpoint the specific changes in your tears.

A higher tear osmolarity reading indicates that your tears are saltier, which can cause discomfort and damage to the ocular surface.

Inflammation Assessment

Inflammation is a significant contributor to dry eye syndrome, particularly in cases of evaporative dry eye. Specialized tests can detect biomarkers of inflammation in your tears.

Identifying inflammation helps your healthcare provider understand the underlying mechanisms contributing to your dry eye and guide treatment choices. It may involve topical anti-inflammatory medications.

Treatment Options for Dry Eye Disease

Dry eye syndrome can be challenging, but a range of treatment options exist to alleviate discomfort and enhance eye health. In this section, we explore various strategies to manage dry eye, from over-the-counter solutions to prescription treatments, in-office procedures, lifestyle adjustments, and the importance of holistic hydration.

Management Strategies for Dry Eye

Effective dry eye management begins with understanding the condition's underlying causes and tailoring a treatment plan accordingly. Here are some key strategies for managing dry eye:

Identify Underlying Causes: Work with your healthcare provider to determine the root causes of your dry eye, whether it's related to tear production, tear quality, or other contributing factors.

Targeted Treatment: Tailor your treatment plan to address the specific aspects of your dry eye. This may involve a combination of approaches to achieve the best results.

Regular Follow-ups: Stay engaged with your healthcare provider for periodic check-ups to monitor your progress and make any necessary adjustments to your treatment plan.

Over-the-counter and Prescription Eye Drops

Over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription eye drops are among the most commonly used treatments for dry eye. Here's what you need to know:

Artificial Tears: These lubricating eye drops mimic natural tears and provide temporary relief from dry eye symptoms. They are available without a prescription and come in various formulations to suit different needs.

Prescription Eye Drops: If OTC options are insufficient, your healthcare provider may prescribe medicated eye drops. These can include anti-inflammatory eye drops (e.g., corticosteroids), immunosuppressive eye drops, or prescription-strength artificial tears.

Punctal Occlusion

Punctal occlusion is a specialized procedure aimed at addressing the core issue in many cases of dry eye: inadequate tear retention on the ocular surface. By strategically blocking the exit points for tears, this procedure can significantly improve tear film stability and alleviate dry eye symptoms.

Understanding Punctal Occlusion

Tears are not only produced by the lacrimal glands but also rely on efficient drainage to maintain a healthy tear film. The drainage system includes small openings called puncta, located in the inner corner of both the upper and lower eyelids. These puncta serve as the exit points for tears to drain away from the eye's surface and into the nasal passages.

In cases of dry eye, the tears produced may either evaporate too quickly, flow out of the eye too rapidly, or be of poor quality. This can result in discomfort, irritation, and blurry vision. Punctal occlusion seeks to counteract these issues by preventing excessive tear drainage.

The Punctal Occlusion Procedure

Punctal occlusion is a straightforward and well-tolerated procedure typically performed by an eye care specialist. Here's how it works:


Your eye care provider will first assess the severity and type of dry eye you're experiencing. Punctal occlusion is often considered when conservative treatments like artificial tears have not provided sufficient relief.

Plug Selection

There are different types of punctal plugs available, including dissolvable and semi-permanent options. The choice of plug depends on the patient's specific needs and the clinician's recommendations.

Dissolvable Plugs

These temporary plugs are made from materials that gradually dissolve over time. They serve as a trial period to assess whether punctal occlusion improves your dry eye symptoms.

Semi-Permanent Plugs

Semi-permanent or long-lasting plugs are typically made of silicone or other biocompatible materials. They can remain in place for an extended period, potentially providing long-term relief.


Once the appropriate type of plug is selected, the procedure involves placing the plugs into the openings of the puncta. This is a quick and virtually painless process that can be performed during a regular office visit.

Assessment and Follow-Up

After punctal occlusion, your eye care provider will assess how the plugs affect your dry eye symptoms and tear film stability. If necessary, adjustments can be made, such as removing or replacing the plugs.

The Benefits of Punctal Occlusion

Punctal occlusion offers several advantages in the management of dry eye:

  • Enhanced Tear Retention: By blocking the drainage of tears, punctal occlusion helps retain moisture on the ocular surface, reducing dryness and discomfort.
  • Improved Tear Film Stability: The increased tear volume and stability promote better vision and reduce the risk of intermittent blurriness.
  • Symptom Relief: Many individuals experience significant relief from dry eye symptoms after punctal occlusion, such as reduced burning, itching, and foreign body sensation.
  • Tailored Treatment: The choice of plug type and the option to start with dissolvable plugs allow for a personalized approach to treatment.
  • Section 4.4: In-Office Procedures (e.g., LipiFlow, Intense Pulsed Light Therapy)

Advanced In-Office Solutions for Treating Dry Eyes

For individuals with moderate to severe dry eye or those who haven't found adequate relief through traditional treatments, in-office procedures offer advanced solutions to target the root causes of the condition. Two notable procedures in this category are LipiFlow and Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) therapy.


LipiFlow is an innovative in-office procedure specifically designed to address evaporative dry eye caused by meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD). MGD occurs when the tiny meibomian glands along the eyelid margins become blocked or dysfunctional, leading to poor-quality oil secretion. This, in turn, compromises the stability of the tear film.

How LipiFlow Works

Before undergoing LipiFlow, your eye care specialist will assess the extent of your meibomian gland dysfunction. This typically involves a detailed examination of your eyelid structure and gland function.

During the LipiFlow procedure, a specialized device is placed over your closed eyelids. The device delivers controlled heat and gentle pressure to the meibomian glands.

The combination of heat and pressure works to soften and liquefy the hardened oils within the meibomian glands. This process clears blockages and restores the glands' ability to produce high-quality oils.

After clearing the glands, the device facilitates the expression and secretion of healthy meibum (the oily component of the tear film). This helps to improve tear film stability and reduce evaporative dry eye.

LipiFlow is a safe and well-tolerated procedure that typically takes around 12 minutes per eye. Most individuals experience minimal discomfort during the process and report noticeable improvements in their dry eye symptoms over time.

Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) Therapy

Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) therapy is a cutting-edge treatment that targets inflammation and meibomian gland dysfunction associated with dry eye. It employs bursts of intense light energy to stimulate the affected tissues, ultimately restoring gland function and reducing inflammation.

How IPL Therapy Works

Your eye care provider will evaluate the extent of meibomian gland dysfunction and the presence of ocular surface inflammation to determine if IPL therapy is suitable for you.

Protective shields are placed over your eyes to safeguard them from the intense light. The IPL device is then used to deliver precise bursts of light energy to the skin of your eyelids. The energy is absorbed by blood vessels and targeted tissues, reducing inflammation and promoting the normal function of meibomian glands.

IPL therapy is typically administered in a series of sessions over several weeks, with each session lasting about 15-20 minutes. The number of sessions required may vary based on the severity of your condition.

Benefits of In-Office Procedures

Both LipiFlow and IPL therapy offer several advantages in the treatment of dry eye:

  • Targeted Relief: These procedures address the underlying causes of dry eye, providing more than just symptomatic relief.
  • Long-Lasting Results: Many individuals experience sustained improvement in dry eye symptoms after undergoing these treatments.
  • Customized Care: Treatment plans can be tailored to your specific needs, ensuring a personalized approach to dry eye management.

Contact Lenses for Dry Eye Relief

While contact lenses are a popular choice for vision correction, some individuals experience discomfort and dryness when wearing them, especially if they have dry eye syndrome. Therapeutic contact lenses are a specialized solution designed to provide comfort and relief for those who suffer from dry eye-related contact lens intolerance.

Lifestyle Changes and Home Remedies for Dry Eye Treatment

When it comes to addressing dry eye discomfort, lifestyle changes and home remedies offer practical solutions that can significantly improve your eye health. One essential step is to ensure proper hydration by drinking an adequate amount of water throughout the day. Additionally, taking regular breaks to blink consciously, particularly during extended screen use, helps to maintain a healthier tear film. Using a humidifier in your living space can add moisture to the indoor air, effectively preventing the dryness often associated with dry eye.

Maintaining clean eyelids is another crucial aspect of managing dry eye. Regular eyelid hygiene helps prevent blockages in the meibomian glands, which play a key role in tear production. Incorporating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish or flaxseeds, into your diet or using omega-3 supplements can contribute to better tear quality.

Warm compresses applied to the eyelids can help open the meibomian glands and promote the healthy secretion of oils that stabilize the tear film. When you're on the go, using preservative-free artificial tears provides quick relief from dry eye symptoms.

It's also essential to minimize exposure to potential irritants such as smoke, wind, and allergens, as these can exacerbate dry eye symptoms. By incorporating these straightforward adjustments into your daily routine, you can effectively manage dry eye and experience greater comfort and clarity in your vision.

Vitamins for Dry Eyes

Certain vitamins and nutrients can support eye health and potentially relieve dry eye symptoms. You can find these vitamins in foods like carrots, sweet potatoes, strawberries, citrus fruits, sunflower seed, and spinach. The vitamins for dry eyes maintain healthy eye surface tissues, promote tear production, and reduce the risk of eye conditions.

Final Thoughts

In the journey to address dry eye syndrome, a precise diagnosis is the first step. Comprehensive eye exams shed light on the root causes, guiding personalized treatment.

Tailored solutions span lifestyle changes, home remedies, in-office procedures, and therapeutic contact lenses. The goal isn't just symptom relief but also tackling underlying issues.

Comprehensive care and regular check-ups ensure that treatment evolves with your needs. Dry eye, though challenging, can be managed effectively, restoring comfort and clarity to your daily life.

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