If you have dry eye, you may experience redness, stinging, or a gritty sensation in your eyes.
Dry eye can be temporary or chronic. It occurs when your tear glands don’t produce enough tears or when your tears evaporate too quickly.
Untreated chronic dry eye can cause a variety of complications, ranging from double vision to infections, but relief is available.
Some people see a reduction in their symptoms with home remedies and over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription eye drops. It’s also important to understand the underlying causes so that you can prevent or manage them.
Here are 15 common causes of chronic dry eye.
Even though anyone can have dry eye, this condition becomes more common the older you get. Dry eye tends to affect people over the age of 50 because tear production declines with age.
This type of dry eye can’t be prevented, but using artificial tears on a regular basis can provide extra lubrication to coat your eyes and relieve dryness.
Tears are composed of oil, water, and mucus. Certain medications, however, can reduce mucus production and contribute to chronic dry eye.
These include antihistamines, antidepressants, diuretics, and beta-blockers used to treat hypertension.
If you take a medication and experience eye dryness, talk to your doctor. Ask about an alternative medication or a lower dose to help reduce your dry eye.
You may also want to use artificial tears along with your medication to keep your eyes lubricated.
Some people who work on a computer experience eyestrain and tension headaches. In addition to these issues, staring at a computer often can also affect your tears and lead to dry eye.
This is because people who work at a computer monitor tend to blink less often. As a result, their tears evaporate more quickly.
If you use a computer for work, you can reduce dryness by blinking more frequently. Blinking will help lubricate your eyes. This can prevent dryness and irritation.
If you still experience dryness, use artificial tears while working at your computer. Additionally, give your eyes a break every now and then. Look away about every 20 minutes and blink repeatedly to re-wet your eyes.
Some people begin to experience dry eye after laser vision correction surgery. This procedure cuts some of the nerves in the cornea, causing the eyes to produce fewer tears.
This type of dry eye is usually temporary and resolves after a few days or weeks. Until your eyes heal, use lubricating eye drops to keep your eyes moist.
Hormones can play a role in dry eye. Some women experience dry eye symptoms during pregnancy, menopause, or while using birth control pills.
Hormones stimulate the production of tears, so an imbalance can reduce tear production.
Hormone replacement therapy doesn’t seem to improve dry eyes. But you can talk to your doctor about lubricating eye drops to reduce dryness and irritation.
Vitamin A promotes healthy eyes. Foods rich in vitamin A include eggs, carrots, fish, spinach, broccoli, and peppers.
A diet low in foods that contain this vitamin can lead to dry eye and other vision impairments, such as night blindness.
A blood test can diagnose a vitamin A deficiency. You can also ask your doctor about using eye drops that contain vitamin A, although these aren’t commonly used for dry eye treatment.
Cold climates and exposure to high winds can cause tears to evaporate too quickly, leading to chronic dryness.
To protect your eyes, use lubricating eye drops and wear sunglasses that wrap around your head to protect your eyes from cold and wind.
Sjögren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disorder that causes white blood cells to attack your salivary glands and tear glands, reducing tear production.
Treatment involves OTC and prescription lubricating eye drops. Your doctor may also prescribe a steroid eye drop.
When dry eyes don’t respond to eye drops, your doctor may recommend a surgery that involves inserting silicone plugs into your tear ducts to help preserve some of your tears.
In addition to other symptoms, many autoimmune conditions like arthritis, lupus, and diabetes can also cause poor or insufficient tear production.
Diagnosing and treating the underlying condition may help improve dry eye symptoms.
Treatment for an autoimmune condition can involve an immunosuppressant drug or a corticosteroid.
Diabetes involves managing your blood sugar with healthy lifestyle habits, diet, and medication.
Blepharitis develops when small oil glands on your inner eyelid become clogged and inflamed. Along with dry eyes, you may have oily flakes around your eyelashes.
There’s no cure for this condition. Still, you can reduce inflammation by applying a warm compress over closed eyes for a couple of minutes and cleaning your eyelids with baby shampoo.
Until inflammation improves, use artificial tears to reduce dry eyes and redness. If your symptoms don’t improve, see your doctor and ask about treatment with antibiotic eye drops.
Allergies can also trigger chronic dry eye. Your eyes may appear itchy, red, and watery. An oral antihistamine can reduce your allergies, although these medications can worsen symptoms of dry eye.
If you only experience eye symptoms from allergies, ask your doctor about antihistamine eye drops.
Sometimes, dry eye is the result of dehydration or not drinking enough fluids. Other symptoms of dehydration include dark urine, lack of energy, dizziness, a rapid heartbeat, and not urinating.
Increasing your fluid intake and drinking more water can improve mild dehydration and ease chronic dry eye.
Dry air also contributes to dry eyes. This can happen if there’s low humidity in your home, or if you sleep or work next to an air vent.
Moving your bed or desk so that air doesn’t blow directly on your eyes may improve symptoms. You may also want to use a humidifier to moisten the air and prevent tear evaporation.
Smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke can also make your eyes dry.
Avoid smoky environments, and if you smoke, take steps to quit. Use nicotine replacement therapy or ask your doctor about a prescription medication to curb cravings.
Long-term use of contact lenses is another risk factor for chronic dry eye. This is because some lenses obstruct oxygen to the cornea.
If your eyes don’t receive enough lubrication, switch to eyeglasses and ask your eye doctor about contacts specifically made for dry eyes. These lenses are designed to help your eyes retain moisture.
Treating dry eye depends on the cause. In general, it may help to avoid:
- smoking and secondhand smoke
- dry places, including deserts and airplanes
- hair dryers or fans blowing on your face
For further relief, you can try:
- using eye drops
- using a humidifier
- looking away from your computer or book to give your eyes a break
- wearing glasses or eye protection to block wind
- using contact lenses intended for people with dry eyes
- taking prescription medications, depending on the cause of the dryness
According to research from 2019, omega-3 fatty acid supplements may also help improve dry eye symptoms.
Additionally, a 2020 study found that artificial tears containing trehalose (a sugar) and flaxseed oil may be effective for treating dry eye. More studies are needed on this treatment.
If a certain medication is causing your eyes to dry out, talk to your doctor about switching to a different one. It may also help to treat other underlying health conditions that may be causing the dryness.
In some cases, you may benefit from having plugs placed in your tear ducts to hold your tears around your eyes. Your doctor may bring this up as a temporary or permanent procedure.
If your eyes are dry, red, or painful over a long period of time, talk to your doctor. You should also make an appointment if treatments at home aren’t helping.
Your doctor can work with you to discover the cause of your dry eyes and suggest the best treatment. This is important because dry eyes may lead to complications, including infection, inflammation, or damage to your eyes.
One of the first steps to relieving chronic dry eye is understanding what’s causing your symptoms.
With medicated eye drops and a few simple lifestyle adjustments, you can make sure your eyes stay lubricated. This can help reduce your risk of dry eye complications.