Dry eye syndrome sounds mild, but it’s not. Patients describe the sensation as scratchy, gravelly, grainy, burning and/or stinging. In the worst cases, it causes unrelenting pain and may lead to blindness. Ironically, excessive tearing can be a symptom — the tear glands don’t produce tears until there is an overwhelming amount of dryness, and then the floodgates open.

Do-It-Yourself Remedies: These steps may relieve mild symptoms…

  • Clean up your diet. Cut down on caffeine, trans fats and saturated fats. Increase intake of omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish and in flaxseed).
  • Stay hydrated. Your urine should be a pale yellow.
  • Protect your eyes. When outdoors, wear wraparound sunglasses or gogglelike moisture-chamber glasses with rubber gaskets to seal in moisture (available at www.7eye.com, $125 to $250). In a car, direct air vents away from you. Don’t smoke, and avoid secondhand smoke.
  • Use a humidifier whenever the humidity drops below 50%.
  • Remember to blink. Take breaks from the TV and computer and when driving.
  • Try artificial tears, sold over-the-counter. Ideally, choose one without preservatives, such as the TheraTears or Refresh lines. Cost: $5 to $15.
  • If you wear contact lenses, switch to the daily disposable kind. If you opt for longer-lasting disposables, use preservative-free contact lens solution.
  • Medical Intervention: If symptoms are severe or due to LASIK vision-correction surgery (which can decrease tear secretions), the therapies above may be inadequate and may mask symptoms while the underlying problem progresses. See your eye doctor, or contact the American Academy of Ophthalmology (www.aao.org) or the American Academy of Optometry (www.aaopt.org) for a referral. Treatment options (typically covered by insurance) include…

  • Prescription eyedrops, such as cyclosporine (Restasis), used indefinitely to increase tear production. Cost: About $100 a month or less.
  • Punctal occlusion, a procedure to plug the tear drains so eyes remain moist. Cost: About $500.
  • Surface reconstruction. This surgery is becoming more widely available and is proving to be highly successful. Cost varies widely.