Chronic Dry Eye—Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is Chronic Dry Eye (CDE) disease?

Chronic Dry Eye is a disease that, over time, can decrease the eye’s ability to make and/or maintain sufficient quality and quantity of tears for a healthy tear film. It is also known by the scientific name, keratoconjunctivitis sicca, and by other terms such as dry eye syndrome or dysfunctional tear syndrome. The tear film helps protect the front surface of the eye and keep it moist and lubricated. Severe forms of Chronic Dry Eye may lead to other consequences for your eyes, including damage to the front surface of the eye, increased risk of eye infection, and effects on your vision.

2. What are the risk factors for Chronic Dry Eye?

Risk factors include growing older, hormonal changes (such as women who are experiencing menopause or who are postmenopausal), or inflammation. Inflammation may affect the glands, which can decrease tear production. Inflammation can also impact the glands' ability to create and maintain the lipid layer, or the top layer of the tear film. The lipid layer slows tear evaporation. Other risk factors for Chronic Dry Eye disease may include having other conditions like glaucoma, diabetes, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and Sjögren's syndrome. External conditions including pollen and allergies, dry air, wind, dust, smoke, working on the computer, and wearing contact lenses can further aggravate Chronic Dry Eye symptoms.

3. How can I find out if I have Chronic Dry Eye?

Your first step is to schedule a medical exam with your ophthalmologist or optometrist to see if you have Chronic Dry Eye disease. Make the appointment now—don’t wait for your annual vision exam. When you call to make the appointment, make sure the office staff identifies it as a medical visit, because the examination to diagnose Chronic Dry Eye disease and the cost of treatment are more likely to be covered by your medical health insurance (not your supplemental vision insurance plan). Also, before your appointment, take the questionnaire eye doctors use to help assess Chronic Dry Eye disease—the Dry Eye Ocular Surface Disease Index (OSDI©). Bring your Dry Eye OSDI© results to show your eye doctor at your appointment. Your optometrist or ophthalmologist can check your eyes for clinical signs of Chronic Dry Eye. He or she also may use several quick and painless tests to measure visual clarity, tear production, eye surface dryness, and damage to the cornea or conjunctiva (the membrane that covers the white part of the eye and the inside of the eyelids).

4. How can I get the most out of my eye doctor appointment?

Taking the Dry Eye OSDI© Questionnaire beforehand and bringing your results with you can make talking to your eye doctor about Chronic Dry Eye easier. Be sure to tell your eye doctor if you experience any of these dry eye disease symptoms: dryness, itching, burning, stinging, a gritty or sandy sensation, feeling like something is in your eye, problems wearing contact lenses, watering eyes, blurry vision, sensitivity to light, or difficulty seeing at night. You should also tell your eye doctor if you have difficulty reading, driving at night, watching TV, or working on the computer. Also, let your doctor know if your need to use artificial tears to relieve dry eye symptoms has increased significantly over time.

5. If I have Chronic Dry Eye, have my eyes been damaged?

Over time, Chronic Dry Eye may get worse, and may have health consequences for your eyes, including damage to the front surface of the eye, increased risk of eye infection, and effects on your vision. No 2 cases of Chronic Dry Eye are exactly alike. If you have questions about Chronic Dry Eye, make an appointment with your eye doctor for a Chronic Dry Eye medical exam. Your eye doctor will be able to provide you with an accurate diagnosis and determine if there has been any damage to your eyes.

6. What treatment options are available for Chronic Dry Eye?

There are several ways to manage Chronic Dry Eye that you should discuss with your eye doctor. Treatment options include over-the-counter artificial tears for temporary dry eye relief, prescription therapies, and punctal plugs.

Together, you and your eye doctor will choose the options best suited to you.

7. What do artificial tears do?

Over-the-counter artificial tears, also known as over-the-counter eye drops, can temporarily provide moisture to the eye and relieve dry eye symptoms.

8. Is my current treatment strategy adequate?

If you are attempting to treat yourself, and find that your dry eye symptoms are getting worse and having a noticeable impact on your daily activities, you should visit your eye doctor. Your eye doctor can determine whether you have Chronic Dry Eye and what options would be best for you.

9. When is it time to consider other options?

You should visit your eye doctor and review your options if your dry eyes: (1) are affecting daily activities such as reading, driving, working at the computer, or ability to wear contact lenses; (2) occur more frequently than before, causing more frequent use of artificial tears; or (3) are different now or more severe than usual, are getting worse, and using artificial tears isn't enough. Remember, Chronic Dry Eye may lead to more serious consequences: damage to the front surface of the eye, increased risk of eye infections, or effects on vision.

10. Am I at greater risk of developing the associated medical conditions?

Chronic Dry Eye may be associated with other eye or health conditions such as glaucoma, diabetes, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, or Sjögren’s syndrome. It does not cause these conditions, but you should provide your medical  history when discussing your dry eye symptoms with your eye doctor. If your doctor suspects that you have any of these conditions, there are specific tests that can help in making an accurate diagnosis.