Dry eyes, or dry eye syndrome, is a common condition that happens when either your eyes don’t make enough tears or you’re unable to maintain a layer of tears to coat your eyes. Over time, this can lead to inflammation and damage to the eye’s surface.
Symptoms of dry eyes include burning, red, or irritated eyes; blurred vision; and a scratchy sensation, like there’s something in your eye.
Dry eyes have many causes. Health conditions like rheumatoid arthritis or thyroid disease, hormone changes, and certain medications can lead to dry eye symptoms. In addition, people naturally tend to make fewer tears as they age.
Environmental factors like windy or dry climates, using contact lenses, and staring at a computer screen for long periods can also contribute to dry eyes.
Read on for answers to frequently asked questions about what to expect from dry eye syndrome and if this condition can be cured.
Dry eyes can be temporary, especially if your symptoms are a result of an environmental factor such as a dry climate, prolonged computer use, or overuse of contact lenses. If your dry eyes are caused by medications, you symptoms may go away when you stop taking that medication.
For some people, however, dry eyes is a chronic condition. The symptoms may improve over time with treatment, but they may never go away completely.
Chronic dry eye happens when your eyes can’t produce or maintain enough tears for a healthy tear film. Chronic dry eye is often related to other health conditions like lupus, Sjögren’s disease, diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Dry eye symptoms may go away once an irritant is removed. In addition, symptoms may come and go with changing seasons.
Simple lifestyle changes can also help keep dry eye symptoms at bay. For example:
- Drinking plenty of water can help you produce natural tears more effectively.
- Adding a humidifier to your home, especially if you live in a dry climate, can keep the eye surface moistened.
- Positioning your computer screen below eye level when working can help, as you won’t have to open your eyes as wide to view the screen, reducing strain.
- Blinking often when doing tasks that require concentration, like reading or using the computer, can also reduce symptoms.
On the other hand, chronic dry eye, which can be caused by other health conditions, may require treatment. In this case, the underlying health condition should also be treated to help relieve dry eyes.
Dry eyes can often be managed, but not completely cured. Some treatments can be used permanently to manage your symptoms.
Prescription medications and over-the-counter (OTC) eye drops, such as artificial tears, can help you manage this condition. While artificial tears don’t treat the underlying cause of dry eyes, they do lubricate the surface of the eye. This can be effective at relieving common symptoms of dry eyes.
When artificial tears or other eye drops don’t relieve your dry eye symptoms, tiny devices known as punctal plugs can be inserted to keep your tears. Inserting punctal plugs is a minor, noninvasive procedure. While punctal plugs can often help the eyes retain tears, you may still need to use artificial tears going forward.
In severe and otherwise untreatable cases, your doctor may recommend other types of procedures, such as
If your symptoms are mild, artificial tears may give you temporary relief right away. You may need to apply artificial tears a few times throughout the day.
If the drops contain preservatives, using them more than four times per day may irritate your eyes. In this case, talk with your eye doctor about using preservative-free eye drops. They’re safe to use as often as needed.
If your doctor prescribes medications for dry eyes, it can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to start seeing an improvement with continued use.
In the United States, dry eyes very rarely leads to blindness. However, in places where medical treatment is difficult to access, severe cases of dry eyes may cause other eye conditions that can lead to blindness.
Without treatment, severe dry eyes can lead to a corneal ulcer. A corneal ulcer is an open sore that develops on the clear, dome-shaped, outer layer of your eyes, which is called the cornea. The cornea helps your eye focus light and maintain clear vision. If the ulcer isn’t treated, it can spread and scar the eyeball, causing partial or complete blindness.
Dry eyes can be temporary or a chronic condition, depending on the underlying cause. Without treatment, chronic dry eye can lead to complications, like a corneal ulcer.
OTC artificial tears and certain lifestyle changes are often enough to manage mild dry eye symptoms, but if these don’t work, an eye care professional can help you find a suitable therapy.
If you think you have dry eyes, talk with an eye doctor.