One of the most common complaints heard in any eye doctor’s exam room is “my eyes constantly tear.” Ninety percent of the time, the diagnosis is dry eye.

It is always a tough sell to explain to someone with “wet eyes” why their eyes are actually dry. But reflex tearing is one of the major signs of dry eye.

Other eye signs include burning, foreign body sensation, itching, fluctuations of vision, sensitivity to light, constant redness, and a sandy or gritty feeling.

Why does one get dry eye? One of the major causes of dry eye is medication such as anti-cholinergics (treats cramping, urinary incontinence, and depression), oral contraceptives, beta blockers (treats high blood pressure), antihistamines, diuretics, and antidepressant-anti-anxiety medications.

Other causes of dry eye are – big surprise – age, gender (women), medical conditions (rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, thyroid problems), contact lens wear, eye surgeries (LASIK), and environmental conditions (exposure to smoke, allergens, dry environments).

Treatment of dry eye involves a lot of trial and error. What works well for one might not work at all for another.

Mild dryness can usually be treated by adding tears to the eye. This is done with over-the-counter artificial tears.

Preservative-free tears are usually recommended, merely because there are fewer chemicals to further irritate the eye.

A cutting-edge approach along these lines is autologous serum drops, which involves drawing the patient’s blood, separating out the components of the blood and making an eye drop out of them.

Studies show that a person’s own blood serum, when diluted with artificial tears, mimics natural tears and promotes corneal health.

Another approach to treatment is to actually keep tears in the eye longer by putting a barrier where the tears normally drain. This is done by blocking the tear ducts with punctal plugs (removable) or cauterization.

The last approach is to try to increase tear production with prescription dry eye drops and omega-3 fatty acids. Treatment of any inflammatory conditions of the eyes also helps.

Anyone with dry eye will tell you that although the diagnosis is not the most devastating one they have ever received, dry eye can definitely be problematic and quite simply annoying.

With proper treatment and a lot of patience, affected individuals will be able to dry their tears and enjoy the simple activities they used to enjoy without the discomfort of this syndrome.

Dr. Catherine Darling is the owner of Darling Eye Center, with offices in Bluffton and on Hilton Head Island.