Chronic Dry Eye and Other Eye Conditions
Last updated: June 2023
Chronic dry eye (CDE) is a common disease that happens when your eye does not make enough tears or there is a problem with the tears that are made. Recent studies estimate more than 16 million adults in the United States have been diagnosed with CDE. Plus, about 6 million more people have symptoms but have not been diagnosed.1
There are many conditions of the eye that people with CDE may also experience. Also, people with other eye conditions may have dry eyes as a symptom or have CDE along with other eye conditions.
Glaucoma is an eye disease that damages the optic nerve, which is like a “cable” that connects the eye to the brain. There are many forms of glaucoma, though open-angle glaucoma is the most common. In this form, an imbalance of fluid production and drainage often causes increased pressure inside the eye. High eye pressure over a long period of time is thought to result in damage to the optic nerve.2,3
Because glaucoma and CDE are both more common with increasing age, it is possible to develop both conditions. These conditions are chronic (long-term), and treatment for both may involve the use of eye drops. It is important to treat each condition to maintain the overall health of your eye and preserve vision. Treating dry eyes and your glaucoma may help soothe your eyes and prevent further damage to the eye surface.2,3
Both CDE and macular degeneration impact older adults more often than younger people. However, these conditions are not the same. CDE affects the surface of the eye, while macular degeneration damages the back of the eye (the retina).4
Macular degeneration usually causes blurred or dark areas in the center of the field of vision. Vision loss in macular degeneration is common and gets worse over time. Vision loss may occur in CDE. However, it usually does not cause dark areas or blind spots in the center of vision, except in severe or complicated cases.4
A cataract is a clouding of the lens inside the eye. The lens helps to focus light on the retina at the back of your eye. Cataracts develop slowly over time. They usually do not cause noticeable vision changes until age 60 or older. Cataract surgery involves removing the cloudy lens and replacing it with a clear artificial lens. This replacement lens stays inside the eye for the rest of your life.5,6
Some people who undergo cataract surgery can develop dry eyes. Or, existing dry eye symptoms may worsen after cataract surgery. About 20 percent of people who have cataract surgery have underlying dry eye disease.7
If you have cataracts, talk to your doctor about any dry eye symptoms you may have. Treating dry eyes before eye surgery may help soothe your eyes and prevent further damage.
Diabetic retinopathy is a condition that can occur in people with diabetes. It is caused by damage to the blood vessels due to diabetes. This damage can cause the tissue in the retina to swell. This leads to cloudy or blurred vision, and in some cases blindness.8-10
Diabetes is a risk factor for CDE, and more than half of those with type 2 diabetes may have symptoms of CDE.11
The central part of the retina is called the macula. When blood vessels in the macula become damaged and leak, it causes swelling. This is called macular edema, which causes washed out colors and blurred vision. Without treatment it may lead to permanent vision loss. A common cause of macular edema is diabetic retinopathy. It can also be caused by surgery to the eye.12,13
Inflammatory diseases, such as uveitis, and autoimmune disorders can also cause macular edema. Doctors suggest treating the underlying condition first and then correcting damage caused by macular edema.12,13
People with psoriasis are more likely to develop eye problems, including uveitis. Uveitis refers to a group of inflammatory diseases of the eye that cause swelling and destroy eye tissue.14,15
Uveitis can affect one or both eyes, and symptoms often develop rapidly. Symptoms include vision loss, blurry vision, eye pain, sensitivity to light, and eye redness. Uveitis can cause permanent damage to eyes and vision, even with treatment.14,15
Thyroid eye disease
Researchers think thyroid eye disease is an autoimmune disorder. In autoimmune disorders, the immune system attacks healthy cells. In this case, it attacks the muscles and fatty tissue around the eyes. Thyroid eye disease can affect different parts of the eyes.16
Symptoms can include dry eyes, watery eyes, red eyes, bulging eyes, double vision, and difficulty closing the eyes. Sometimes drugs are used to soothe irritation. Surgery may help relieve other symptoms.16
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