What Is Dry Eye Syndrome in Children?


Although dry eye syndrome occurs very rarely in younger demographics, it is possible. It can occur with symptoms as painful and uncomfortable as in adult cases. Because physicians frequently misdiagnose the condition in children, it is important to report all symptoms. Pay careful attention to what your child reports.


  • Dry eye syndrome is a disorder of the film where tears are normally produced. When dry eye syndrome occurs, the eye is incapable of producing a sufficient amount of tears, or the tears are composed of chemicals that cause them to evaporate immediately. The condition results in decreased tear production and an abnormality in the production of mucus typically found in the tear layer. Although most patients experience only mild to moderate symptoms of dry eye syndrome, severe cases of dry eye syndrome can be extremely painful and uncomfortable, and they often require surgery so that the eye does not dry out.

Understanding Your Child's Symptoms

  • Patients with dry eye syndrome often report persistent eye dryness, a sensation of burning or scratching in the eye, blurred vision, a gritty or filmy feeling in the eyes, light sensitivity, and eye redness or "foreign body sensation," wherein it feels as though an object has interceded the eye. While a child may not complain of a sensation of dryness in and around the eye, the child will likely describe the feeling of irritation, burning, scratchiness, and itching. Parents should also listen for environmental clues that might point to dry eye syndrome. For example, the child may claim that symptoms worsen during an airplane trip or a vacation to a dry, windy location.

Avoiding Misdiagnosis

  • To avoid having your child be misdiagnosed, be prepared to answer questions regarding your child's normal eye behavior---for example, does the child normally sleep with his eyes open? Parents should also be prepared to report whether the child is afflicted with a disease that affects the skin, joints, guts, or respiratory system. It is also possible a current medication may be contributing to your child's eye condition; this information should be noted, as well. Finally, any form of radiation therapy or chemotherapy may damage the glands involved in tear secretion. That should be provided to the child's physician as well. To be certain the child suffers from dry eye syndrome, a physician will likely order a Schirmer test, a procedure which attempts to measure the amount of tears in a patient's eye using a thin strip of filter paper placed at the corner of the eye.

Causes of Dry Eye Syndrome in Children

  • Most cases of pediatric dry eye syndrome are caused by one of several conditions. One condition, mucin deficiency, affects the primary producers of tear mucin. Deficiency of this integral component destabilizes the tear film and causes the eye to dry out. To avoid this condition, children should consume the daily amount of vitamin A (xerophthalmia) and trachoma, as these elements have the ability to greatly affect the mucin layer of the tear film.

    Lipid deficiency can also contribute to dry eye syndrome. The meibomian glands, or tarsal glands, are the primary contributors to the oily layer of the tear film. A decrease in this layer promotes a faster evaporation of the tear film, aggravating dry eye syndrome. Radiation therapy or chemotherapy can cause meibomian gland dropout, often resulting in a serious deficiency in this tear lipid layer. Other causes for dry eye syndrome include prolonged periods of eye-heavy activity, including watching television, reading or using a computer, dry or dusty air, other medications, or prolonged contact lens use.


  • Pediatric dry eye syndrome can be easily treated by massaging the child's lids, cleaning the eyelid margins twice daily with diluted baby shampoo (approximately one teaspoon of shampoo to one cup of lukewarm water), refraining from medication that may be causing the eye to dry out and ensuring your child consumes the necessary amount of Vitamin A and essential lipids. Applying an antibiotic or corticosteroid combination to the lid margin in small quantities may also helping in treating pediatric dry eye syndrome.

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