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Dry Eye Discharge : Causes, Impact, and Advanced Treatment Options

  1. Introduction

    1. Definition and Prevalence of Dry Eye Discharge

      Dry eye is a condition in which the eyes do not produce enough tears that is necessary to keep the eyes moist. It is a common ocular condition characterized by disruption in the tear film’s composition and stability. This may lead to discomfort, visual disturbances, and potential damage to the ocular surface. There is also inadequate lubrication and increased evaporation.

      Dry eye is a prevalent condition that is affecting a significant portion of the global population. The prevalence is dependent on age, gender, environmental conditions, and overall health.

      • The prevalence of dry eyes in a general population ranges from 5% to 50%
      • It is more common in females than males.
      • The elderly are more susceptible to dry eyes
      • Environmental factors including prolonged digital usage and exposure to dry and windy climates contribute to dry eye discharge

      Dry eyes can significantly impact the quality of life of a female causing discomfort wearing lenses, blurred vision, and eye fatigue. Chronic dry eyes if not treated can lead to inflammation, corneal damage, and increased risk of ocular infection. It is therefore important for individuals experiencing dry eyes to seek professional eye care. It can be helpful in early diagnosis and management.

    2. Impact of Dry Eyes Discharge on Quality of Life and Ocular Health

      Dry eye discharge has a substantial impact on an individual’s quality of life.

      • It leads to uncomfortable sensations like burning, stinging, itching, and foreign body sensation in the eyes.
      • There may be blurred vision affecting a person’s ability to perform daily tasks such as reading, driving, and using digital devices.
      • There may be decreased work efficiency and productivity due to discomfort. The individual may need to take breaks or reduce screen time because of eye discomfort.
      • The person may have to limit participation in outdoor activities, sports, and hobbies.
      • Limitations in daily activities may lead to emotional distress, anxiety, and even depression.
      • There may be damage to the corneal epithelium due to prolonged dryness and inadequate tear film. There may be abrasion, ulcers, and infections.
      • There may be inflammation of the ocular surface which can further exacerbate discomfort and damage the delicate structures of the eyes.
      • The compromised tear film and ocular surface may create an environment conducive to bacterial and viral infections.
      • Those wearing contact lenses may experience increased discomfort and difficulties with lenses due to decreased lubrication.
      • The ocular injuries may heal more slowly and less effectively in the presence of dry eyes.

      With proper management and treatment, the symptoms of dry eye can alleviate and this can be helpful in reducing discomfort and preventing potential complications

  2. Causes and Mechanism of Dry Eyes Discharge

    1. Composition of Tear Film and its Role in Ocular Health

      The tear film is a layer of tears and is vital for eye health.(1) Each time you blink, the eyelid spreads this layer across the cornea, which is the outer layer of the eye.

      There are three layers of tear films that serve different purposes in protecting the eye:

      • Meibum: This is the outer layer. The oily meibum plays a role in preventing tears from evaporating and smooths the eye surface. This can protect the eye from harmful elements and dryness.(2)
      • Water: This forms the middle layer. It is watery and keeps the eye moist and its tissues nourished.
      • Mucus: This is the inner layer. It helps the tear film stick to the cornea.

      The tears in people with dry eyes have water that evaporates faster or tears do not contain enough water. This causes mucus and oil layers to get stringy, sticky, or gritty discharge.

      People with dry eyes may notice a small amount of mucus in the cornea of the eyes on waking up.  Along with sticky or stringy mucus, there may be the risk of bacterial infection, low-quality mebium, allergy, trauma, and shortage of water-filled tears. There may also be excess yellow or green discharge that may stick the eyelids together.

    2. Dysfunction of Tear Production and Drainage

      Dysfunction of tear production and drainage plays a significant role in the development of dry eye discharge and related ocular discomfort.

      Tear Production Dysfunction

      • Aqueous Tear Deficiency: In this case, the lacrimal glands responsible for producing watery components of tears, fail to produce sufficient tears. This can be due to age, certain medical conditions, medication, autoimmune disorders, or damage to the lacrimal gland.
      • Hormonal Change: Fluctuation of hormones, such as those occurring during menopause can lead to reduced tear production and contribute to dry eyes.
      • Inflammation: Chronic inflammation of the lacrimal glands seen in conditions such as Sjogren’s syndrome can impair tear production.

      Tear Drain Dysfunction

      • Evaporation Loss: Meibomian glands located in the eyelids, produce a lipid layer of tears that prevents excessive evaporation. Meibomian gland dysfunction may cause evaporative dry eyes. This may cause poor lipid quality and increased evaporation of tears.
      • Punctual Abnormalities: Tears drained from the eye surface through tiny openings called puncta, which are located in the inner corner of the upper and lower eyelid. Dysfunction or blockage of the puncta can hinder tear drainage and lead to tear accumulation on the ocular surface.
      • Age-Related Changes: Tear drainage decrease with age due to the changes in the structure and function of the lacrimal drainage system.
      • General Prevalence of Dry Eyes: Research shows that dry eyes as a condition is estimated to affect about 8.1% of the general population in the United States.(3)
      • Prevalence of Discharge Among Those With Dry Eyes: Among individuals already diagnosed with dry eyes, a study conducted in 2015 observed that, of 400 ophthalmology patients with the condition, a significant 87.5% experienced discharge associated with their dry eyes.(4)
    3. Inflammation and its Contribution to Dry Eyes Discharge

      Inflammation is a key contributor to the development and progression of dry eyes with discharge. Chronic inflammation disrupts the ocular surface and disrupts the delicate balance of the tear film. This impairs tear production and quality and exacerbates discomfort.

      Inflammation contributes to dry eye discharge in the following ways:

      • It disrupts the immune response and cytokine release. It disrupts the normal functioning of the lacrimal and meibomian glands leading to reduced tear production and altered tear film composition.
      • It can damage the cell makeup of the ocular surface which might compromise the integrity of the tear film leading to increased evaporation and reduced lubrication. It also disrupts the mucus layer of the tear film affecting the stability and ability to adhere to the ocular surface.
      • Inflammatory mediators sensitize nerve endings on the ocular surface increasing the sensitivity and discomfort. This triggers reflex tearing which further leads to instability in the tear film.
      • Goblet cells produce mucin that spreads tears evenly across the ocular surface. Inflammation leads to goblet cell dysfunction and decreased mucin production further compromising the stability of tear film.
  3. Existing Therapeutic Approaches for Dry Eye Discharge

    The existing therapeutic approaches for maintaining dry eyes include:(5)

    • Artificial and Lubricating Eye Drops:  These provide immediate relief by supplementing tear film.
    • Anti-inflammatory Medications: Topical corticosteroids and immunomodulators are used for controlling inflammation and enhancing tear production.
    • Punctal Occlusion: Temporary or permanent punctal plugs can be inserted to slow down tear drainage, thereby increasing tear retention on the ocular surface.
    • Lifestyle and Environmental Modifications: Reducing exposure to dry, windy, and smoky environments can help prevent excessive tear evaporation. Blinking during long periods of screen work can help with dry eyes.(6) Also, limiting screen time and staying hydrated can be helpful.
    • Nutritional Supplements: Supplements such as omega-3 fatty acids having anti-inflammatory properties can help improve tear film quality and comfort.
    • Eyelid Hygiene and Warm Compresses: Warm compresses help manage meibomian gland dysfunction by promoting healthy lipid production and reducing blockage.
    • Prescription Medication: Antibiotics and oral secretagogues manage inflammation and stimulate tear production by targeting receptors involved in tear secretion.
  4. Emerging Therapies for Dry Eyes Discharge

    Emerging therapies for dry eye discharge are advancing to provide more targeted and effective treatments. These aim to address underlying causes and improve tear film stability.

    • Lipid-Based Enhanced Tear Formulations: Lipid-based eye drops mimic the natural lipid layer, reducing tear evaporation and enhancing tear film stability.(7) Mucin-enhanced eye drops improve the mucus layer of the tear film and aid in the better spreading of tears across the ocular surface.(8)
    • Regenerative Therapies: Platelet-rich plasma and autologous eye drops are being explored for their potential to promote healing, reduce inflammation and improve tear film quality. Also, stem cell therapy holds promise for regenerating damaged ocular surface cells and restoring tear film function.(9)
    • Neurostimulation Techniques: Devices using electrical and thermal stimulation to activate lacrimal and meibomian glands are being developed to enhance tear production and the meibomian quality.(10)
    • Targeted Immunomodulators: Novel medications targeting specific inflammatory pathways are being developed.
    • Gene Therapies: These aim to restore balance and tear production, enhance gland function and reduce inflammation at the molecular level.
    • Nanotechnology-based therapies: Nanoparticles and nanomaterials are being explored for controlled drug delivery to the ocular surface, ensuring sustained and targeted therapeutic effects.
    • Biologic Therapies: Monoclonal antibodies are being investigated to target specific molecules involved in inflammation and promote tear production.(11)
    • Digital Health Tools: Mobile apps and wearable devices are being developed to monitor tear film dynamics and provide real-time feedback to patients and clinicians.(12)


Dry eye discharge can result from a variety of factors, one of which is meibomian gland dysfunction. As discussed in the article, factors ranging from hormonal changes and inflammation to tear production dysfunction and environmental conditions play a role in this condition. Current therapies offer diverse strategies to alleviate symptoms and address the multifaceted causes of dry eye discharge. The evolving therapies hold great scope for more targeted and effective treatments. A multidisciplinary approach encompassing these medical advancements promises better outcomes and improved well-being for individuals dealing with dry eye discharge.

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Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:August 22, 2023

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