Keratitis sicca, or dry eye syndrome, is a condition that occurs when not enough tears are produced to keep the eyes healthy or when the tears dry too quickly to adequately lubricate the eyes. It rarely causes permanent vision loss but can make day-to-day activities uncomfortable. The treatment options vary depending on the patient.
People who have keratitis sicca experience a range of symptoms. Many people have red, itchy or burning eyes or feel the presence of a foreign body on the surface of the eye. Some individuals become sensitive to light. Severe dryness of the eyes can cause thickening of the corneas, corneal ulceration or eye infections.
The symptoms often worsen as the day progresses. People who have this condition might be especially uncomfortable when watching television, reading or using a computer, because they do not blink as often when participating in these activities. Spending time in dry or dusty places can also exacerbate the symptoms of keratitis sicca. The symptoms are less severe in humid or damp environments.
Keratitis sicca is commonly associated with autoimmune diseases such as lupus erythematosus, Sjogren syndrome and rheumatoid arthritis, and it is more common in women than in men. Certain medications such as antihistamines and anti-anxiety drugs can temporarily cause dry eye syndrome. Older individuals develop dry eyes more often than younger people.
An eye doctor can diagnose keratitis sicca by performing a Schirmer test. He or she places a special piece of paper below the bottom eyelid to measure how many tears are produced within a given time period. The doctor might also use a slit lamp test, during which he or she examines the inside of the eye for damage using a specialized microscope and a high-powered light.
There was no cure for keratitis sicca as of early 2011. Doctors focus on alleviating the symptoms by prescribing artificial tears, which are eyedrops that lubricate the surface of the eye. Patients use the drops every few hours or as needed to keep the eyes moistened.
Some medications, such as cyclosporine and corticosteroids, lessen the symptoms of redness and inflammation in patients who have dry eyes. Doctors might also recommend surgery in severe cases. The eyelids might be partially sewn together if dryness is severe enough to cause permanent damage to the eyes.
People who develop keratitis sicca because of a more serious disorder such as Sjogren syndrome might need intensive therapy. Most patients develop only mild or moderate dry eyes. Their symptoms can be treated effectively with drug therapy or eyedrops.