If you suspect that you have dry eye, you shouldn’t wait to see an eye health specialist.

Most adults ages 18 to 64 need an eye exam at least every 2 years, while older adults and those considered at a higher risk of developing eye problems may need to see an eye specialist at least once a year.

If left untreated, dry eye can be disruptive to your everyday life and may lead to worsening symptoms and permanent eye damage. So, any concerns about possible dry eye should be addressed with a specialist right away.

If you suspect you have dry eye, or if you have other eye concerns, you should schedule an appointment with an optometrist. An optometrist is considered a primary eye health doctor, and they can help diagnose eye diseases and prescribe treatments.

Ophthalmologists also treat dry eye, and in severe cases, you may be referred to a corneal specialist.

Consider the following questions to ask your doctor about chronic dry eye.

Dry eye is a long-term (chronic) condition involving a lack of tears in your eyes.

Tears are important to help lubricate your eyes, which helps maintain health and vision.

The tears in your eyes can also help wash away particles and other foreign matter in your eye, as well as prevent infections.

Burning, redness, and irritation are common symptoms of dry eye. Other symptoms may include:

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

There are numerous causes of dry eye, so it’s important that you tell your optometrist about your health history and any medications you currently take.

Some of the most common causes of dry eye include:

  • decreased tear production stemming from older age or hormone changes, especially if you’re over 50
  • having an autoimmune disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus
  • tear gland damage from Sjögren’s syndrome
  • blepharitis (chronic eyelid inflammation)
  • certain medications, such as those for heart disease and high blood pressure, anxiety and depression, and allergies
  • long-term use of contact lenses
  • previous treatment with refractive eye surgery
  • certain viral infections, such as shingles
  • living in a dry climate
  • certain lifestyle and work habits, such as excessive screen time
  • long-term nutritional deficiencies, especially vitamin A and omega-3 fatty acids

A dry eye workup refers to a series of diagnostic tests and tools your doctor may use to determine whether you have dry eye disease.

First, a comprehensive eye exam will be used to help diagnose dry eye. This involves a physical and magnified examination of your eyes. Your eye doctor may also put dyes in your eyes to determine tear sufficiency and flow.

Another test may measure the volume of your tears over a period of 5 minutes. This is known as the Schirmer’s test.

Additionally, your eye specialist will consider your health history and ask you about medications and supplements you take.

The goal of dry eye treatment is to make sure your eyes produce enough tears. This involves tear conservation, increased tear production, and adding tears.

Your eye doctor may recommend over-the-counter or prescription eye drops called artificial tears to help with lubrication. Preservative-free tears may be ideal if you need to use eye drops frequently or if you have allergies.

For inflammation that may be contributing to dry eye, your doctor may prescribe ointments for your eyelids.

If your eye doctor determines that tears are draining too quickly from your eyes, they may place small devices called punctal plugs inside the inner corners of each eye.

Researchers continue to assess the underlying causes and treatments for dry eye disease. Other future potential areas of research include enzymes and antibody treatments for dry eye.

It’s also important to discuss the use of any nutritional supplements with your doctor before use, as these may interact with medications you might take.

There are several surgeries for dry eye, such as:

  • thermal pulsation, which helps to treat meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD), a common underlying cause of dry eye, by applying heat and pressure to the eyelids
  • intense pulse light therapy, which uses gentle pulses of light to treat underlying causes of dry eye

Your eye doctor may recommend surgery to fix your eyelids if they’re too loose, causing tears to escape more quickly. This is not considered a common dry eye treatment.

Dry eye can lead to pain and discomfort while wearing contact lenses. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to stop wearing them.

Instead, if you’re diagnosed with dry eye, your doctor will recommend artificial tears, more durable lenses, and frequent lens changes that can help alleviate your symptoms.

There’s no cure for dry eye. However, there are numerous treatment options to help ensure your eyes produce and maintain adequate tears to stay healthy.

Depending on the underlying cause, your eye doctor may also treat underlying inflammation contributing to dry eye.

Treatment adherence can help minimize symptoms of dry eye while also reducing the risk of eye damage.

Dry eye can cause problems with your vision, such as blurriness and light sensitivities. When left untreated, chronic lack of tears can cause permanent damage to the cornea in your eye. This may lead to subsequent vision losses.

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

This involves adherence to your treatment plan, as well as the following steps:

  • Reduce screen time whenever possible.
  • Blink your eyes at regular intervals while reading or looking at screens.
  • Avoid dry climates if possible.
  • Increase humidity levels in your home and workspace.
  • Stay hydrated.
  • Wear sunglasses outside to prevent the drying effects of sun and wind.

While the research is mixed, your doctor may also recommend omega-3 supplements if your diet is deficient in fatty fish.

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.