May also be called: Dry Eye Syndrome; Keratitis Sicca; Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca; Xeroma; Xerophthalmus
Xerophthalmia (zeer-of-THAL-me-uh) is a condition in which an eye becomes abnormally dry because it can't maintain an adequate layer of tears to coat its surface.
Tears are made up of a mixture of water, oil, and mucus. The oil helps keep tears from evaporating too quickly. The water helps clean the eye and wash away dust and other foreign particles. The mucus helps spread tears evenly over the surface of the eye (cornea). If an eye doesn't produce enough tears or produces tears with abnormal levels of oil, water, or mucus, the eye can feel dry and itchy. There also can be pain, periods of blurred or reduced vision, or cornea damage.
A number of conditions can cause xerophthalmia, including wind; dry air; working long hours on a computer; vitamin A deficiency; certain medications; and diseases such as diabetes, arthritis, and Sjogren's syndrome (an immune system disorder).
Xerophthalmia is most common in young kids who have a vitamin A deficiency and older people (when eyes make fewer tears), but it can affect people of any age.
Most cases of xerophthalmia cause discomfort but don't result in any permanent vision loss. Depending on the cause and severity, several treatments are effective for xerophthalmia, including over-the-counter artificial tears or prescription eye drops.
All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.
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