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Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca

(Keratitis Sicca; Dry Eye Syndrome)

How to Say It: Kera-to-con-JUNK-tiv-eye-tis sick-ah

Definition

Keratoconjunctivitis sicca is dryness of the conjunctiva and cornea. The conjunctiva is the tissue that covers the eye and lines the inside of the eyelid. The cornea is the clear front layer of the eye.

Inflamed Conjunctiva
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Causes

This problem happens when the eyes:

  • Do not make enough tears
  • Make enough tears, but they evaporate too quickly because there is not enough oil content in them

These problems may be caused by:

Risk Factors

This problem is more common in women and older adults. The risk is also higher in people who have any of the causes listed above.

Symptoms

Problems from dry eyes are:

  • Feeling a burning, itching, or foreign body in the eyes
  • Eye redness and irritation
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Excess tears
  • Blurred vision
  • Problems wearing contact lenses

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. Most of the time the diagnosis is made by a doctor who treats eyes.

An eye exam will be done. Tests that may be done are:

  • Slit lamp visualization to look at the film of tears on the surface of the eyes using a special light
  • Fluorescein dye to look for any damaged areas of the eyes
  • Schirmer test to measure the amount of tears by placing a small paper wick near the eyelids

Treatment

Any underlying causes will need to be treated. In others, the goal is to keep the eyes moist and stop the problem from getting worse. Choices are:

  • Lifestyle changes, such as using a humidifier and avoiding tobacco smoke
  • Changing or stopping medicines that are causing problems
  • Medicines to:
    • Keep the eyes moist
    • Ease inflammation
    • Help the eyes make more tears

People who are not helped by these methods may need surgery. A tiny plug may be placed in the tear ducts. This can help tears stay on the eyes longer.

Prevention

There are no known guidelines to prevent this health problem.

RESOURCES:

American Optometric Association
http://www.aoa.org

Eye Health—American Academy of Ophthalmology
http://www.eyesmart.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Ophthalmological Society
http://www.cos-sco.ca

Health Canada
https://www.canada.ca

REFERENCES:

Dry eye disease. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/dry-eye-disease. Accessed March 18, 2021.

Keratoconjunctivitis sicca. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/eye-disorders/corneal-disorders/keratoconjunctivitis-sicca. Accessed March 18, 2021.

Thulasi P, Djalilian AR. Update in Current Diagnostics and Therapeutics of Dry Eye Disease. Ophthalmology. 2017 Nov;124(11S):S27-S33.

What is dry eye? Eye Smart—American Academy of Ophthalmology website. Available at: http://www.geteyesmart.org/eyesmart/diseases/dry-eye. Accessed March 18, 2021.

Last reviewed December 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Daniel A. Ostrovsky, MD  Last Updated: 03/19/2021