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What is Chronic Dry Eye?

Chronic dry eye (CDE), medically known as keratoconjunctivitis sicca, is a long-lasting eye condition where the tear glands produce inadequate tears for lubrication, or the tears evaporate too quickly. This imbalance leads to inflammation, irritation, and a gritty sensation in the eyes. Contributing factors include aging, excess sunlight exposure, digital screen use, environmental elements, and autoimmune diseases. CDE can significantly affect your daily activities, and it’s important to make lifestyle changes to mitigate its effects.

Symptoms of Chronic Dry Eye:

  • Persistent dryness
  • Scratchy or gritty feeling
  • Sore or irritated eyes
  • Redness of the eyes
  • Blurred vision
  • Fatigue of the eyes
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Difficulty with nighttime driving
  • Watery eyes (reflex tearing)
  • Discomfort wearing contact lenses

How Sun Exposure Increases the Risk

Prolonged exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can exacerbate the risk of developing chronic dry eye. The UV radiation damages the conjunctiva and cornea, leading to inflammation that can disrupt the delicate balance of the tear film. This can reduce tear production or increase tear evaporation, which are critical factors in maintaining moisture.

Additionally, UV rays can harm the meibomian glands, which secrete oils essential for preventing tear evaporation. Damage to these glands from cumulative sun exposure can lead to Meibomian Gland Dysfunction (MGD), a leading cause of chronic dry eye. MGD results in a deficient tear film, exacerbating the symptoms associated with dry eye syndrome.

Other Risk Factors:

  • Aging, particularly post-menopausal changes in women
  • Environmental conditions like wind, dry air, and smoke
  • Prolonged screen time and reduced blinking
  • Contact lens wear over extended periods
  • Certain medications, including antihistamines and antidepressants
  • Autoimmune disorders, such as Sjögren’s syndrome
  • Eyelid problems or incomplete closure of eyelids (lagophthalmos)
  • Hormonal changes or imbalances
  • Previous eye surgeries
  • Deficiency in essential fatty acids