The diagnosis of dry eye is often made based upon the typical symptoms of eye irritation, frequent watering, and transient blurred vision. A detailed case history, including questions about general health, medications, and workplace is important. Your optometrist will also examine the surface of your eye and your eyelids using a microscope, and may employ tinted drops (stains) to highlight areas of dryness.
Ironically, one of the most common symptoms of dry eye is excessive watering, particularly in situations where tear evaporation is increased. For example, the decreased blink rate that accompanies tasks like reading and computer use is a common trigger. Dry environments (large buildings, hockey arenas, airplanes), moving air (a breeze outdoors, or the defrost vent in the car) and contact lens wear further increase evaporation. The eye may feel gritty, sandy, or begin to sting, and transient blurred vision is common. Symptoms typically worsen as the day progresses, but can be apparent upon awakening, when overnight mucous accumulation leaves ‘sleep’ in the corner of the eye.
First of all, the more accurate question may be "what can be done when I have dry eye?", since most of us will experience dry eye at some point in our lives. Elderly patients, females, and contact lens wearers are particularly susceptible. Many systemic medications can trigger dry eye. Because it is difficult to increase tear production, your optometrist will initially focus on supplementing or retaining your natural tears. Many lubricating drops are available; however, not all are equally effective – your optometrist can recommend or prescribe a product based upon your unique requirements. That being said, Mother Nature is the best chemist, and your optometrist may suggest reversible blockage of the tear drainage ducts to keep more natural tears in your eye.
Dry eye is exactly that: a lack of moisture on the surface of the eye. However, that simple lack of moisture can trigger chronic inflammation, occasionally with significant consequences. Everyone depends upon tears to keep their eyes comfortable and healthy, and their vision clear. For a variety of reasons, including advancing age, general health conditions (and many medications used in their treatment), and environmental conditions, many of us will have signs and/or symptoms of insufficient tear volume, from mild irritation to sight-threatening corneal scarring.