Dry eye is a chronic eye condition that may cause burning, redness, and vision changes. If you suspect you have dry eye, visit an eye specialist right away.

Dry eye is a condition that causes tear dysregulation. This is when you experience a reduction in tear production or your tears evaporate too quickly.

Keep reading to learn more about what to know before seeing a dry eye specialist.

Burning, redness, and irritation are the most common dry eye symptoms, according to the National Eye Institute (NEI). Other symptoms of dry eye may also include:

  • stinging
  • excess tear production
  • mucus strings
  • gritty feeling in the eyes
  • blurry vision
  • sensitivity to light
  • discomfort while wearing contact lenses

Dry eye is most commonly caused by meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD).

Meibum is made up of oily components that help keep your tear film stable and regulate tear production. The tear film covers the surface of your eye and is responsible for lubricating and protecting your eye.

MGD may impact the quantity and quality of tears in your eyes, which could lead to dry eyes.

According to the NEI, several risk factors may increase your risk of developing dry eye, including:

  • decreased tear production from older age, especially if you’re over age 50 years
  • hormonal changes, especially in people assigned female at birth
  • underlying health conditions, such as diabetes, lupus, or Sjögren syndrome
  • taking certain medications, such as for heart disease, hypertension, depression, or allergies
  • wearing contact lenses
  • previously having eye surgery
  • living in a dry, low-humidity climate
  • certain lifestyle and work habits, such as excessive screen time
  • long-term nutritional deficiencies, especially vitamin A and omega-3 fatty acids

It’s important to tell an optometrist about your health history and any medications you currently take. This could help them provide a proper diagnosis and develop a treatment plan that’s right for you.

A dry eye workup refers to a series of diagnostic tests a healthcare professional may use to determine whether you have dry eye disease. According to the NEI, these may include:

  • Slit lamp test: A doctor will use a magnified glass and bright light to examine your eyes. They may also put dyes in your eyes to determine tear sufficiency and flow.
  • Schirmer’s test: This measures the volume of your tears over 5 minutes. A doctor will put drops in your eyes and then place a piece of paper at the edge of your eyelid. After closing your eyes for 5 minutes, a doctor will measure the wetness of the paper.
  • Tear break-up time (TBUT): This measures the time your tear film stays intact after you blink. A doctor will place a dye in your eye. After blinking once, they’ll ask you not to blink so they can measure how long the tear film covers your eye.

The goal of dry eye treatment is to keep your eyes lubricated. This may involve:

  • conserving tears
  • increasing tear production
  • adding tears

Over-the-counter (OTC) artificial tears, or eye drops, are the first-line treatment for dry eye.

If these don’t work, a healthcare professional may recommend:

  • wearing scleral contact lenses, if you wear contacts
  • prescription anti-inflammatory eye drops or ointments
  • punctal plugs to help prevent tears from draining too quickly
  • eyelid surgery

In 2023, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the eye drop medication perfluorhexyloctane (Miebo) to help treat dry eye.

Some other new treatments for dry eye may include:

  • Intense pulsed light (IPL) therapy: This uses gentle pulses of light to help improve tear film stability and the viscosity of tears, as well as decrease tears from evaporating too quickly.
  • Thermal pulsation therapy: This uses gentle heat to target specific enzymes responsible for the inflammation that could lead to dry eye. However, more research is needed to fully support its benefits in dry eye treatment.

Some nutritional supplements may also help. For example, a 2022 review found that vitamin A and vitamin D supplementation may provide benefits for dry eye.

However, it’s important to speak with a healthcare professional before taking any supplements to help avoid potential side effects and health complications.

Several surgeries exist to help treat severe cases of dry eye.

For example, amniotic membrane surgery involves placing new tissues on your eye to help promote healing, tear production, and fight inflammation.

A healthcare professional may also recommend surgery to fix your eyelids if they’re too loose. This could help prevent your tears from escaping too quickly.

Wearing contact lenses is associated with dry eye because they may affect your tear film.

If you receive a diagnosis of dry eye, a healthcare professional may recommend:

There’s currently no cure for dry eye. However, early diagnosis and treating the underlying cause can help you manage your symptoms and improve your quality of life.

If left untreated, dry eye may lead to several complications, such as:

  • blurriness
  • light sensitivity (photophobia)
  • conjunctivitis
  • permanent cornea damage
  • vision loss

Following your treatment plan can help reduce the risk of complications.

You may not be able to prevent dry eye if it’s secondary to another underlying medical condition. However, you may be able to prevent some of the symptoms by:

  • reducing your screen time
  • blinking at regular intervals
  • avoiding dry, windy, and smoky environments
  • wearing wraparound sunglasses outside
  • increasing the humidity in your home
  • staying hydrated by drinking 8–10 glasses of water daily
  • sleeping for at least 7 hours each night

What kind of doctor should I see for dry eyes?

Speak with an optometrist if you experience dry eye. Ophthalmologists also treat dry eyes, and in severe cases, you may be referred to a corneal specialist. Most adults need to get an eye exam at least every 2 years.

Can optometrists treat dry eye?

Yes, optometrists can help diagnose eye diseases and prescribe treatments.

Do ophthalmologists treat dry eye?

Yes, an ophthalmologist can help diagnose dry eye and prescribe treatments.

Can a doctor prescribe something for dry eyes?

If OTC artificial tears don’t help treat your symptoms of dry eye, a doctor may prescribe eye drops and ointments, or recommend surgery.

Dry eye is a common chronic eye condition that causes burning, redness, and vision changes. If you suspect you have dry eye, it’s important to see an eye specialist right away.

The sooner dry eye disease is treated, the sooner you can experience relief and a reduced risk of vision loss.