Xerophthalmia (Greek for dry eyes) is a medical condition in which the eye fails to produce tears. It may be caused by a deficiency in vitamin A and is sometimes used to describe that lack, although there may be other causes.
Xerophthalmia results from inadequate function of the lacrimal glands which produce tears.
Epidemiology and Demographics
Xerophthalmia is a term that usually implies a destructive dryness of the conjunctival epithelium due to dietary vitamin A deficiency — a rare condition in developed countries, but still causing much damage in developing countries.
Xerophthalmia can be associated with systemic diseases such as Sjögren's syndrome, systemic lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, sarcoidosis, amyloidosis, and hypothyroidism; deficiency of vitamin A; and the use of some medications including antihistamines, nasal decongestants, tranquilizers, and anti-depressant drugs. When xerophthalmia is due to vitamin A deficiency, the condition begins with night blindness and conjunctival xerosis (dryness of the eye membranes) and progresses to corneal xerosis (dryness of the cornea), and, in the late stages, to keratomalacia (softening of the cornea). Other forms of dry eye are associated with aging, poor lid closure, scarring from previous injury, or autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, and these can all cause chronic conjunctivitis.
The treatment depends on the cause. Artificial tears, which lubricate the eye, are the principal symptomatic treatment for dry eye. They are available over-the-counter as eye drops. Using humidifiers, wearing wrap-around glasses when outside, and avoiding outside windy and dry conditions may bring relief. For people with severe cases of dry eye, temporary or permanent closure of the tear drain (small openings at the inner corner of the eyelids where tears drain from the eye) may be helpful. Also known as conjunctivitis arida.