If you regularly consume alcohol and dry eyes have become an issue, it may have to do with alcohol’s inflammatory and dehydrating properties.
Drinking alcohol affects your body. Not only is it a central nervous system (CNS) depressant — which means it slows important functions related to coordination, reasoning, and mood — but alcohol can also cause inflammatory responses that may lead to chronic disease.
Alcohol can also affect your eyes. Drinking can cause short- and long-term challenges with eye health and vision, including a condition known as dry eye disease (DED).
Drinking alcohol can cause dry eyes, and when dry eyes become a persistent problem, you may be living with DED.
DED — also known as dry eye, dry eye syndrome, or keratoconjunctivitis sicca — is a chronic condition where your eyes either stop making enough tears or produce low quality tears.
Without proper tear function, your eyes become dry, and you’re less likely to blink away debris or clear out bacteria and viruses that may lead to infection.
Common symptoms of DED include:
According to a
A 2021 population-based study of more than 77,000 people found that 30% of those who consumed alcohol reported symptomatic dry eye. The results were more significant among women than men, to the point where the study authors noted that alcohol use could be considered a risk factor for dry eye, mainly among women.
You’ll notice that the language used to share stats and other data points is pretty binary, fluctuating between the use of “male” and “female” or “men” and “women.”
Although we typically avoid language like this, specificity is key when reporting on research participants and clinical findings.
Unfortunately, the studies and surveys referenced in this article didn’t report data on, or include, participants who were transgender, nonbinary, gender nonconforming, genderqueer, agender, or genderless.
How alcohol causes dry eye
According to the
Alcohol promotes dehydration, which increases the salt level in blood and tears. The higher the concentration of salt in your tears, the faster they’ll evaporate when you blink and distribute them across the surface of your eye. This tear film, which spreads each time you blink, should stay on the eye long enough to support clear vision, provide protection, and keep the eye lubricated for the eyelids.
Tears that evaporate too quickly can’t meet the eyes’ functional needs. This results in inflammation and irritation, causing symptoms of dry eye.
Alcohol in tears may also directly affect the surface layers of the eye. After drinking, tears can contain traces of alcohol, which can further trigger inflammation and cause damage to the eyes.
The vitamin is
If you already live with a dry eye diagnosis, drinking alcohol may make your symptoms worse.
DED has multiple causes. You may have developed the condition due to:
- natural aging
- medication use
- living with another chronic condition, like diabetes
- exposure to dry climates
- environmental toxins, like cigarette smoke
- long-term contact lens use
- a history of eye surgeries, such as refractive surgery to remove the need for glasses
- a vitamin A deficiency
Drinking alcohol when you’re already experiencing dry eye for other reasons can add the effects of alcohol to your existing symptoms.
The long-term effects of alcohol on the eyes
Consuming alcohol in
Drinking alcohol in large amounts, however,
Over time, excessive alcohol use
- age-related cataracts
- central serous chorioretinopathy, or fluid accumulation under the retina
- diabetic retinopathy
- nutritional optic neuropathy, or vision changes from a nutritional deficiency
- central retinal vein occlusion, or a blockage in the blood vessel of the retina
- accelerated age-related macular degeneration
Many of these conditions can cause significant visual changes, unusual eye movement, and vision loss.
Due to conflicting evidence on the role alcohol may play in chronic vision conditions, more research is necessary to clarify the long-term effects of heavy alcohol use on the eyes.
Your dry eye symptoms may persist if you stop drinking or experience alcohol withdrawal.
Even after you stop drinking, you may still be under the effects of dehydration, and DED changes from regular alcohol use don’t typically go away the moment you stop drinking. DED usually requires several months of treatment.
Tear production is one of many functions that disrupted nerve signaling
Changing your relationship with alcohol
Dry eyes are just one of many negative effects associated with alcohol use. Over time, drinking can cause damage to nearly every system in your body. It can impair your ability to make decisions, and it may increase your chances of causing unintentional harm to yourself or others.
If you’re ready to change your relationship with alcohol, help is always available. You can find support and resources by contacting or visiting:
The relationship between alcohol and dry eye is complex. Consuming alcohol may increase dehydration, promote inflammation, and disrupt vitamin transport — all factors that can negatively affect tear quality and quantity.
Not only can drinking contribute to DED, but it may also make existing DED symptoms worse. Dry eye symptoms can persist even after stopping drinking, and alcohol withdrawal may cause issues with tear production.
Over time, excessive alcohol use can cause lasting damage to the eye that may promote conditions of vision loss and unusual eye movement.