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Dry eye syndrome

Private treatment for this common eye condition that causes discomfort in the eyes

Doctor examining woman's eye lid at eye clinic
Dry eye syndrome is a condition where you do not make enough tears, or your tears are poor quality and do not provide enough lubrication for your eyes. When we blink, our eyes produce a layer of moisture called a tear film, which lubricates our eyes. This tear film keeps our eyes healthy and comfortable and helps keep our vision clear. This causes inflammation and damage to the surface of the eye.

Dry eye syndrome is common, especially as we get older. It is not usually serious and can normally be treated with medication or lifestyle changes. However, in severe cases, dry eye syndrome can cause damage to your cornea (the clear part at the front of your eye).

This page explains what dry eye syndrome is, some common causes of dry eye syndrome and some ways it can be treated. Call or book online today to arrange a consultation to discuss private dry eye treatment with a consultant of your choice at Circle Health Group.

Symptoms of dry eye syndrome may include:

  • Pain
  • Itching
  • Redness
  • A stinging, burning, or scratching sensation in and around the eyes
  • Stringy mucous discharge from the eyes
  • Blurred vision
  • Tired eyes
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Difficulty wearing contact lenses
  • Difficulty driving at night
  • A feeling that there is something in your eye
  • Watery eyes

Dry eye syndrome has a variety of causes. It may occur when:

  • Your eyes don't produce enough tears
  • Your tears don't work well enough to lubricate your eyes
  • Your tears dry up too quickly

Your eyes may feel dry all the time, or your condition may be triggered by environmental factors such as looking at a computer screen for prolonged periods or exposure to dust or smoke.

It can be difficult to determine the cause of your dry eyes and in some cases, the condition may be due to a variety of factors.

Common causes of dry eyes include:

  • Blepharitis and meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD)
  • Environmental factors
  • Certain medications
  • Wearing contact lenses for prolonged periods
  • Certain medical conditions
  • Previous eye surgery or injury

Blepharitis and meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD)

These eye conditions are the most common causes of dry eyes. Blepharitis is inflammation of the eyelid that causes red, swollen, itchy eyes and sometimes crusty flakes around the eyelashes. It is most commonly caused by a bacterial infection.

MGD occurs when the oil-secreting meibomian glands in the upper and lower eyelids become blocked. This causes the tears to evaporate too quickly leading to dry eyes.

Environmental factors

Dry eyes may be triggered or made worse by things in your environment such as dust, smoke, wind, make-up, or air conditioning. Looking at a computer screen for long periods can also make dry eye symptoms worse.


Some medications such as antihistamines, antidepressants, certain painkillers, and the oral contraceptive pill can cause dry eyes. Frequent use of eye drops that contain preservatives can also make dry eyes worse. If you think your medication may be causing your dry eyes, talk to your GP about changing to an alternative medication. Never stop taking prescribed medication without first speaking to your doctor.

Contact lenses

Wearing contact lenses for long periods can cause dry eyes in some people. Always follow the manufacturer's instructions carefully when wearing contact lenses and talk to your optician or eye doctor if you think your contact lenses are causing your eyes to become dry.

Medical conditions

Some medical conditions can increase your risk of developing dry eyes. These include diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren's syndrome, lupus, and scleroderma.

Eye injury or surgery

Injury to the eye or previous eye surgery such as laser eye surgery can cause your eyes to become dry. This normally improves once your eye has healed.

You are more likely to develop dry eye syndrome if you:

  • Are over fifty years of age
  • Are female
  • Have certain medical conditions
  • Wear contact lenses
  • Are deficient in vitamin A or omega-3 fatty acids

Treatment for dry eye syndrome normally involves making changes to your lifestyle or medications such as eye drops, ointments, or gels. In rare cases, surgery may be necessary.

Lifestyle changes

Some things you can do to treat your dry eyes yourself include:

  • Clean your eyelids daily
  • Avoid smoky or dusty environments
  • Apply a warm compress to your eyes
  • Limit screen time, blink regularly and take regular breaks when using a computer
  • Position your computer to just below eye level
  • Avoid wearing contact lenses for long periods and switch to glasses instead
  • Use a humidifier in your home
  • Avoid smoking or drinking excessive amounts of alcohol
  • Avoid prolonged exposure to air conditioning or heating
  • Use wraparound sunglasses to protect your eyes in cold, windy, or dry weather
  • Avoid blowing air into your eyes from hairdryers, fans, car heaters or air conditioners
  • Drink plenty of water (aim for eight to 10 glasses a day)
  • Get enough sleep (seven to eight hours a night)
  • Omega-3 and -6 and flaxseed oil may help with dry eyes, though more research is needed


Medication in the form of artificial tears, anti-inflammatory or antibiotic eye drops, gels or ointments are usually the first line of treatment for dry eye syndrome. Some medications can be bought over the counter from pharmacies while others require a prescription. Frequent use of artificial tears that contain preservatives can make dry eyes worse, so opt for preservative-free brands.

If your dry eyes are due to a medical condition, treatment for the underlying condition may improve your symptoms. If you think your medication may be causing your eyes to become dry, talk to your doctor about switching to an alternative.

Punctal plugs

If your tears are draining too quickly, tear duct plugs called punctal plugs may help. These tiny plugs are placed in the tear ducts (puncta) to stop fluid from draining from the eye. Punctal plugs can be temporary or semi-permanent.

Temporary punctal plugs are made from material that gradually breaks down and is absorbed by the body. They may be used to keep your eyes moist after surgery such as LASIK eye surgery. Semi-permanent plugs are made from long-lasting material and can stay in the eye for years. In some cases, your consultant may try temporary punctal plugs first and switch to semi-permanent if they are effective.

Punctal plugs are applied in a minor procedure under local anaesthetic.

Contact lenses

Special contact lenses work by protecting the surface of your eye and preventing moisture from escaping.

LipiFlow thermal pulsation

LipiFlow thermal pulsation is a procedure to treat meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD). It works by applying heat and pressure to the upper and lower eyelids to improve drainage of the meibomian glands. The procedure takes around twelve minutes.


In some cases, surgery to permanently block your tear ducts or prevent excessive drainage of tears by tightening your lower eyelids can be used to treat dry eye syndrome.

At your initial consultation, you will be seen by a consultant ophthalmologist, a doctor specialising in conditions affecting the eyes. Your consultant will ask you about your symptoms and general health as well as any previous eye conditions or surgeries.

To make a diagnosis, your consultant will perform an extensive eye examination including a dilated eye examination. This is where your consultant puts drops in your eye to dilate your pupils so they can examine the inside of your eye.

Other tests for dry eye syndrome include:

Slit lamp test

During this test, your consultant will shine a bright light into your eyes and examine your eyes with a microscope to see if they are making enough tears.

Schirmer's test

This is a test where your eyes are numbed with eyedrops before your consultant applies a small piece of paper to the edge of your eyelid. You will then be asked to close your eyes for five minutes after which your consultant will check how moist the paper is to determine the amount of tears you are making.

Tear break-up time (TBUT)

This test measures how long your tear film lasts after you blink. During the test, your consultant will apply a dye to your eye and ask you to blink to spread the dye fully across your eye. You will then be asked to look straight ahead without blinking. Your consultant will check to see how long it takes for the dye to disappear.

How is a diagnosis made?

Your consultant will make a diagnosis based on your symptoms, medical history, and the results of your eye examinations and tests.

Why is this first consultation so important?

Your first appointment is important because it's where we get to know you and discuss your symptoms, general health, and expectations for treatment. Your first appointment is also where you can discuss any concerns or ask your consultant any questions you may have.

At the end of your appointment, your consultant will explain your diagnosis and recommend a suitable treatment.

We answer some of your most frequently asked questions about dry eye syndrome.

What is the best treatment for dry eye syndrome?

The best treatment for dry eye syndrome depends on the cause. If you have a condition such as blepharitis or meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD), treatment for these conditions can help relieve symptoms of dry eye syndrome. If your dry eyes are triggered by environmental factors, lifestyle changes can make a huge difference.

Artificial tears are normally the first treatment choice for dry eyes and work in the majority of cases. In more severe cases, your consultant may recommend prescription medications or further treatments.

Can laser eye treatment cause dry eyes?

It's common to experience dry eyes after laser eye surgery. Symptoms are normally temporary and usually resolve in around three to six months.

Can I buy dry eye treatment at the chemist?

Some dry eye treatments such as artificial tears, some eye drops, gels, and antihistamines are available to buy without a prescription from the chemist. Your pharmacist can also advise you on caring for your dry eyes at home and when you should see a doctor for your condition.

How quickly does dry eye treatment work?

How quickly dry eye treatment works depends on how severe your symptoms are and the type of treatment you are using. Some treatments may work straight away, while others can take several weeks or even months to have an effect. You may need to use artificial tears several times a day for up to six weeks before you see an improvement in your symptoms. Talk to your consultant about how quickly you can expect your dry eye treatment to work.

At Circle Health Group we have the experience and expertise to ensure the best possible care and outcome for our patients. As a patient with Circle Health Group, you can expect the highest standards of care including:

  • Flexible appointment times and locations that are convenient for you
  • The freedom to choose which hospital and consultant suit your needs
  • Personalised, consultant-led treatment plans tailored to your individual needs
  • Comfortable and safe private facilities maintained by expert multidisciplinary teams
  • Private ensuite rooms as standard
  • A range of delicious healthy meals
  • Affordable, fixed-price packages with aftercare included
  • Flexible payment options to help you spread the cost of your care

If you would like to see a consultant or learn more about dry eye treatments, book your appointment online today or call a member of our team directly.

Content reviewed by Circle in-house team in April 2023. Next review due April 2026.

  1. Dry eyes, NHS
  2. Dry Eye, NIH: National Eye Institute
  3. Dry eye, RNIB
  4. Dry eye, American Optometric Association

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