Dry eye syndrome is a common eye condition that can lead to discomfort. A separate eye condition is eye floaters, which can obstruct your field of vision. Many people have experience with both conditions. However, there’s no research that supports that the two may be connected.

Dry eye syndrome is when your tear film doesn’t work the way it should, causing symptoms on or around the eye.

A 2017 meta-analysis of studies done between 2005 and 2015 found that dry eye affects between 5% and 50% of people. The numbers vary so widely in part because of different criteria for dry eye diagnosis. The National Institutes of Health says over 16 million Americans have dry eye. Symptoms of dry eye include:

  • stinging, scratching, or burning sensation in the eye
  • redness of the eye
  • sensitivity to light
  • blurry vision

Floaters can also make your vision blurry. You may also experience other symptoms, such as lines or spots in your field of vision.

Floaters and dry eye share some common symptoms, however, and it’s possible to experience both at the same time. Read on to learn more.

Dry eye and eye floaters have a few things in common. Both are more prevalent as people age. Living with diabetes leads to a greater risk of having floaters, while autoimmune conditions like lupus lead to a greater risk of dry eye.

Despite these links, researchers don’t believe there’s a connection between dry eye and floaters. There’s little formal academic investigation done on this specific question. Notably, in a 2016 study on the effects of dry eye on vision, the common complaints cited by people with dry eye did not include floaters. Symptoms that impacted vision were:

  • blurry vision
  • eye fatigue
  • glare
  • changes in vision after blinking

Dry eye and floaters, independently, are both well-understood conditions. They have distinct causes that do not seem to be related to one another.

The inside of the eye is filled with a jelly-like substance called the vitreous. Eye floaters are clumps in the vitreous that cast a shadow on the retina. If you have floaters, you may see spots, lines, or threads that look like cobwebs in your line of vision.

In youth, the clear vitreous has a complex micro-scaffolding made of collagen bundles. As you age, they collapse and the gel liquefies. Floaters become more common and the vitreous turns to a watery consistency. Some conditions make floaters more likely, such as:

Sometimes, floaters are a sign of something more serious. These may require medical treatment.

To examine your eye to check for floaters and any possible problems inside the eye, an eye doctor will perform ophthalmoscopy. Beforehand, in most cases, eyedrops are administered to dilate the pupils.

Your eyes receive lubrication through your tears. The eye creates tears that cover the surface of the eye. Excessive tears drain out through tear ducts. If production and drainage are out of balance, you may experience dry eye.

You may have dry eye if your eyes don’t create enough tears, or the tears evaporate too quickly or don’t reach the entire surface of the eye. There are several causes of dry eye, including:

  • Age-related changes: Many people experience dry eye as they get older. The majority of adults 65 and older have dry eye.
  • Hormonal changes: Pregnancy, use of oral contraceptives, and menopause can lead to dry eye.
  • Medications: Many prescription and over-the-counter medications have dry eye as a side effect. These include antihistamines, blood pressure medicines, and antidepressants.
  • Medical conditions: Eyelid inflammation (blepharitis), eye surface inflammation, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and thyroid issues are some examples of medical conditions that can cause dry eye.
  • Environmental exposure: Smoke, wind, and prolonged screen time can all lead to dry eye.

A doctor can assess your dry eye through a regular eye examination.

You should see a doctor for dry eye or floaters if they’re causing you discomfort and interfering with your ability to see. Dry eye, if not treated, can lead to damage to the cornea, the outer surface of the eye.

Medical emergency

A retinal tear or retinal detachment can be a medical emergency. You should see an eye doctor immediately or go to an emergency room if you have:

  • a sudden increase in the number of floaters
  • a shadow, curtain, or blurry area in your vision

Treatment options exist for both dry eye syndrome and eye floaters. An eye care professional can help you decide what might work best for your eye health.

Treating dry eye syndrome

Dry eye syndrome has different treatments depending on what’s causing the condition. A doctor may recommend:

  • Artificial tears: These are over-the-counter eye drops you can buy without a prescription.
  • Prescription medications: Cyclosporine (Restasis) and lifitegrast (Xiidra) help increase tear production. You can only buy these with a doctor’s prescription.
  • Punctal plugs: Punctual plugs are placed in the tear ducts if your eyes cause tears to flow too quickly.
  • Lower eyelid surgery: Dry eye can sometimes happen if loose lower eyelids cause tears to flow out too quickly. This surgery corrects the lid.

Other common remedies for dry eye syndrome are lifestyle changes:

  • Changing medications: This may be an option if your dry eye is a side effect of another medication you take.
  • Avoiding smoke and wind: The air can irritate your eyes, causing them to dry out.
  • Limiting screen time: Breaks from electronic devices like smartphones, laptops, and tablets may help dry eye.
  • Wearing sunglasses: These may protect the eyes from irritants when you are outside.

You may also find relief from dry eye symptoms by resting and placing a warm compress over the eyes.

Treating eye floaters

Many people do not need treatment for eye floaters. If they don’t bother you, a doctor may recommend simply leaving them alone. Many causes of eye floaters, such as age-related changes, do not need treatment.

If your eye floaters are the result of another condition like an infection or injury, you may need treatment for that condition.

In most cases, floaters resolve over time. If floaters cause great interference with your vision, an ophthalmologist may recommend a vitrectomy. This surgical procedure removes nearly all of the vitreous and replaces it with sterile fluid. During this procedure, the doctor also removes the floaters.

Vitrectomy is very rarely performed because most people who undergo it develop a cataract in the affected eye within months, solving one problem but creating a new one.

A newer laser treatment for floaters called YAG laser vitreolysis is also being studied but is not yet widely used. A small 2020 study of 32 people who had the procedure found it improved visual function.

Eye floaters and dry eye are two separate conditions. Dry eye is not known to cause floaters, or vice versa. While dry eye is the result of inadequate tear production, floaters are caused by clumps in the gel-like substance inside the eye. Both conditions may require treatment from a doctor to prevent serious long-term vision problems, but in many cases they can also be treated effectively at home.