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First of all, let me say that without being able to examine your eyes, my ability to diagnose this condition is somewhat limited, as you may imagine. With that being said, your symptoms are classic for dry eyes with inflammation; this is very often overlooked as a cause for these symptoms. When there is inflammation in the eyes and/or eyelids, this is usually from what's called blepharitis, although this inflammation can occasionally spill over to the cornea and if it does (would only know this by an exam of your eyes), then treating this blepharitis as I will detail below is usually not enough; essential treatment, but not enough.
The eyelids are key players in making a layer of tears that coats the surface of your eyes called a tear film. The inflammation that is blepharitis keeps the eyelids from making that tear film as healthy as it needs to be and so the eyes dry out. Also because there is inflammation in the tears because of the blepharitis, there are bacteria pooling in your tear film. Often times an antibiotic +/- steroid drop or ointment is used to help kill the bacteria. This therapy is usually only used in a pulse fashion, to start out the treatment and then only used when there are flare-ups, not on a regular basis for most people. However, treating this with a steroid drop for a few days is not enough to treat this entire problem, it is usually just an adjunctive measure combined with the baseline treatment as I state below.
The baseline treatment for blepharitis and what I think you should start doing, is everyday in the morning you should do two things: 1. hot compresses and 2. eyelid scrubs. You should do hot compresses for 5-10 minutes over each eye at the same time. It should be as hot as you can tolerate without burning your skin, massaging the eyelids while they are on there. Then, use either commercially available preparations (Sterilid or Ocusoft) or a dilute baby shampoo solution to scrub your eyelashes on all 4 eyelids. The commercially available preparations are both over-the-counter eyelash scrubbing treatments. These cost more money but are quicker to use. Otherwise, the cheaper alternative is the dilute baby shampoo (4-5 drops Johnson's shampoo in 1/4 cup warm water): you will take the wipe (or dip a qtip in the dilute baby shampoo solution) and use that to scrub right on the eyelashes of each eyelid for 15 seconds. That will take 60 seconds when done to all 4 eyelids. The scrubbing is done right on the eyelid margin, where the eyelashes come out. After that, just splash some water on the eyes and you're done.
It does take about 3-4 weeks of doing this consistently every day before it really kicks in, so don't stop it thinking it's not working; often times combining this with the topical steroid helps to bring relief sooner. Also the eyes are still significantly dry during this 3-4 weeks so use artificial tears one drop in each eye, 4x/day (make sure it is not the kind that says get-the-red-out or redness-reliever). After 4 weeks you should be able to start tapering off of the tears to as you need them.
Just doing the artificial tears, hot compresses and eyelid scrubs alone would likely start to help you after three or 4 weeks--but remember it could take this long of doing it everyday before you see a significant effect, so don't stop it thinking it's not working. Also you may need an antibiotic/steroid combination medicine to help augment the therapy. If after 3 weeks of diligent treatment you are better, but not completely normal, you may need to see your eye doctor to assess for other causes of dry eyes, as blepharitis is only one cause of dry eye. Many times dry eye patients have more than one cause of dry eyes (Restasis is an excellent treatment for those people with dry eyes because they don't make enough of their own tears). Each cause of dry eyes needs to be appropriately treated for your symptoms to resolve.
Does this help answer your question? I know this was a wordy answer, but it is all essential information to treat this.
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My opinion is solely informative and does not constitute a formal medical opinion or recommendation. For a formal medical opinion and/or recommendation you must be examined by your doctor.
Dry eyes, for most people that have them, is a chronic condition. This blepharitis that I spoke of is a condition that people either have or they don't have; you've had it your whole life, but likely did not have a flare-up of it until now. Usually there is some trigger that causes it to become noticeable to the patient, including getting something in the eyes, an eye injury, an infection, allergies or even an intense usage of the eyes over a short period of time.
Regardless, if this is blepharitis as I suspect, you will likely to continue to have problems if you don't treat it everyday; just like you need to brush your hair and teeth daily, this will require daily treatment as well or it just won't work.
Does that make sense?