Dry eye - Schepens Eye Research Institute

Dry eye (also called dry eye syndrome) is a very common condition. Dry eye occurs when people don’t have either enough tears, or the correct composition of tears, on the surface of their eyes to lubricate the eyes and keep them comfortable.

Who is at risk?

Dry eye’s prevalence increases with age, and is extremely common in older people. The condition affects two to three times more women than men. About six million women and three million men in the U.S. have moderate or severe symptoms of the disease, and scientists estimate that an additional 20 to 30 million people in this country have mild cases of dry eye.

What is the impact of dry eye?

Dry eye syndrome is not a frequent cause of blindness; however, it is still an important public health problem. In fact, visits for dry eye syndrome are one of the leading reasons for patients to seek eye care. This is because its symptoms are very bothersome and lead to a decreased quality of life, reduced work capacity, and poorer psychological health. Dry eye syndrome is associated with a decreased ability to perform activities that require visual attention, such as reading and driving a car.What can I do?

Anything that may cause dryness, such as an overly warm room, hair driers, smoke, or wind, should be avoided by any person with dry eye. A humidifier in heated rooms may help. If wearing contact lenses increases your discomfort, wear spectacle eye-glasses instead. There is evidence that, in older women, hormone replacement therapy makes dry eye worse; if you are using HRT, talk to your doctor. Seek help if symptoms occur frequently or interfere with your functioning; it is important to see an ophthalmologist or optometrist to rule out corneal injury or infection.


The first line of treatment is usually eye drops that act as artificial tears and give some temporary relief. These solutions and ointments give some temporary relief, but do little to arrest or reverse any damaging conditions. For more severe cases of dry eye, in which the ocular surface is inflamed, anti-inflammatory agents are sometimes prescribed. For some forms of dry eye, tiny plugs can keep tears on the eye’s surface by slowing the rate of drainage from the eye; this procedure is called punctal occlusion.

What is Schepens Eye Research Institute doing about it?

Many scientists and clinicians at the Institute do research focusing on the outer corneal surface and the tear film. Current research includes:

  • Development of androgen-containing eye drops to treat dry eye syndromes currently in clinical trials.

  • Development of treatments to increase the production of tears and their components.

  • Determination of the roles of tear film mucins in protection of the eye.

  • Development of anti-inflammatory drugs to alleviate the symptoms of dry eye.

  • Epidemiological studies identifying the risk factors contributing to dry eye including age, diet and hormone therapy.

  • Development, from living cells, of an artificial cornea that could be used for corneal transplantation.