The pathology of dry eye

Surv Ophthalmol. 2001 Mar:45 Suppl 2:S211-20. doi: 10.1016/s0039-6257(00)00200-9.


Homeostasis of the tear film involves delicate hormonal and neuronal regulatory mechanisms. The eye appears to be a target organ for sex hormones, particularly the androgens, as they modulate the immune system and trophic functions of the lacrimal glands and the functioning of the meibomian glands. The cornea, lacrimal glands, mucous cells, and meibomian glands are all richly innervated, indicating the importance of nervous regulation in their function. Parasympathetic, sympathetic, and sensory innervation play complex stimulatory or inhibitory roles, and neuronal pathways interact via complex surface results cascades. Abnormalities at any point in these pathways can cause overall dysregulation of lacrimal function. Whatever the initial causes of dry eye, chronic dryness of the ocular surface results in inflammatory reactions and gradual destruction of the lacrimal glands and conjunctival epithelium. Once dry eye disease has developed, inflammation is the key mechanism of ocular surface injury, as both the cause and consequence of cell damage. In practice, dry eye can be associated with Sjögren's syndrome, allergies, infection, blepharitis, and preservative-containing eye drops.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Dry Eye Syndromes / pathology*
  • Humans