Systemic Diseases That Cause Dry Eye

Published August 30, 2020

Up to 70 percent of patients with systemic conditions suffer from dry eye.

Dry eyes is a common condition caused by insufficient tear quantity, or inadequate tear quality. Symptoms of dry eyes can range from a mild inconvenience to a chronic problem, and can impact your performance of daily activities.

Types of dry eyes

Meibomian gland dysfunction occurs when the meibomian glands don’t produce enough oil (meibum), and the tears evaporate too quickly.

Aqueous deficient dry eye occurs when the lacrimal glands don’t produce enough liquid (aqueous) to keep the eyes sufficiently moistened.

If there is an imbalance between the quantity of tears, and the rate at which the tears evaporate, dry eye symptoms can develop.

Keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS) is the most common cause of dry eyes that occurs when there is an insufficient amount of tears.

Symptoms of dry eyes

  • Dry, irritated, or red eyes
  • Inflammation or burning
  • Itchiness
  • Excessive tearing/watery eyes
  • Blurriness
  • Sensitive or sore eyes
  • Eyelid discomfort
  • Foreign body sensation

Which systemic diseases cause dry eye?

When dry eye symptoms don’t respond to traditional treatment methods such as artificial tears, antibiotics, or anti-inflammatory medications, there may be an underlying systemic disease. If this is the case, the systemic disease needs to be controlled in order to experience dry eye relief.

Diabetes

More than 11 percent of Americans have diabetes.

A study including 199 people with type 2 diabetes showed that 54 percent of the participants experienced dry eye syndrome.

An additional study showed that 55 percent of people with diabetes experience at least mild dry eye symptoms throughout the day.

While the specific cause of dry eye syndrome in patients with diabetes is unclear, researchers believe that diabetic retinopathy and its effects on the tear film may play a large role.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)

Rheumatoid arthritis affects over 1.3 million Americans and approximately one percent of the population worldwide.

According to research, more than 70 percent of the participants with RA were diagnosed with dry eye disease.

Thyroid eye disease (TED)

Thyroid eye disease affects approximately 16 in 100,000 females and around 3 in 100,000 males.

Exophthalmos-related corneal exposure and hormone changes cause dry eye in patients with thyroid eye disease.

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)

Systemic lupus erythematosus affects approximately 150 in 100,000 Americans.

A study of 36 patients with SLE showed that 57 percent of the participants had dry eye.

Dermatological conditions

Patients with rosacea have a higher incidence of dry eye disease. Moreover, patients with psoriasis have an increased likelihood of developing dry eye disease.

Inflammatory conditions

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and Crohn’s disease are known to be associated with dry eye symptoms.

A study on patients with inflammatory bowel syndrome revealed that 22 percent of participants also had dry eye disease.

Can dry eye syndrome lead to blindness?

Dry eyes cannot directly lead to blindness, but without proper care and attention, vision loss can occur as a result of a complication associated with dry eyes.

If left untreated, dry eyes can damage the cornea, the clear covering of the eye, which can consequently increase your risk of vision loss and blindness.

The tears support the cornea by providing oxygen and nutrients, and by washing away germs and debris to prevent infection. When there is an insufficient amount of tears, or the quality of the tears is inadequate, damage to the cornea can occur.

The most common corneal conditions caused by dry eyes include corneal ulcers (sores) and corneal abrasions (scratches).

When to see your doctor

If you have been diagnosed with a systemic disease, schedule an eye exam to prevent dry eyes and learn how to keep your condition under control.

Relieve your dry eyes to protect your vision, enhance your performance of daily activities, and improve your quality of life.