If you have dry eye syndrome, your eyes don’t produce enough tears or you’re not able to maintain a normal layer of tears to coat your eyes.

Your eyes may also be prone to bacterial infections, or the surface of your eyes may become inflamed, causing scarring on your cornea.

Although it’s uncomfortable, dry eye syndrome almost never causes permanent vision loss.

The most common symptoms of dry eye syndrome are:

  • burning
  • pain
  • redness

Other common symptoms include:

  • watery tearing
  • stringy mucus
  • eyes get tired faster than they used to
  • difficulty reading or sitting at the computer for long periods
  • blurry vision
  • feeling of having sand in your eyes

Many people with dry eyes notice their eyes feeling heavy, says Dr. Lance Kugler.

Over-the-counter options for dry eyes typically include eye drops, gels, and ointments. Many of these products have ingredients that help retain moisture.

Carboxymethylcellulose is a common soothing ingredient, says Dr. Brian Boxer Wachler. “Different manufacturers have their own [soothing] ingredients, and [brand choice] often comes down to personal preference.”

Look for products that have lubricants, such as carboxymethylcellulose, and electrolytes, such as potassium.

Artificial tears

Eye drops that increase your eye moisture are among the most common treatments for dry eye syndrome. Artificial tears also work well for some people.

Lacrimal plugs

Your eye doctor might use plugs to block the drainage holes in the corners of your eyes. This is a relatively painless, reversible procedure that slows tear loss.

If your condition is severe, the plugs may be recommended as a permanent solution.

Medications

The most commonly prescribed medication for dry eye syndrome is an anti-inflammatory called cyclosporine (Restasis). The drug increases the amount of tears in your eyes and lowers the risk of damage to your cornea.

If your case of dry eye is severe, you may need to use corticosteroid eye drops for a short time while the medication takes effect.

Alternative medications include cholinergics, such as pilocarpine. These medications help stimulate tear production.

If another medication is causing your eyes to become dry, your doctor may switch your prescription to try to find one that doesn’t dry out your eyes.

Surgery

If you have severe dry eye syndrome and it doesn’t go away with other treatments, your doctor may recommend surgery.

The drainage holes at the inner corners of your eyes may be permanently plugged to allow your eyes to maintain an adequate amount of tears.

Home care

If you tend to have dry eyes, use a humidifier to increase moisture in your room and avoid dry climates. Limit your contact lens wear and the time you spend in front of the computer or television.

Procedures

Kugler notes that there are also new treatments, such as LipiFlow, which helps tears flow more easily, and BlephEx, which is performed by an eye care professional to clean the eyelid.

There is a good body of evidence suggesting that omega-3 fatty acid supplements are helpful for people with dry eye, says Kugler.

Usually, people need to take these supplements regularly for at least 3 months to see an improvement, he adds.

However, a 2018 study funded by the National Institutes of Health concluded that omega-3 supplements were no better than placebo in the treatment of moderate to severe dry eye.

If your dry eyes are being caused by environmental factors, try making some lifestyle changes, like avoiding exposure to cigarette smoke and protecting your eyes with eyewear during outdoor activities when it’s windy.

Adding a humidifier to your home can put moisture in the air, which may help to reduce dry eyes.

Soft contacts are usually more comfortable for people with dry eyes than hard contact lenses, says Boxer Wachler.

Soft lenses stay moist and allow the eye to breathe better than hard lenses.

Tears have three layers. There’s the oily outer layer, the watery middle layer, and the inner mucus layer.

If the glands that produce the various elements of your tears are inflamed or don’t produce enough water, oil, or mucus, it can lead to dry eye syndrome.

When oil is missing from your tears, they quickly evaporate and your eyes can’t maintain a steady supply of moisture.

The causes of dry eye syndrome include:

  • hormone replacement therapy
  • exposure to the wind or dry air, such as constant exposure to a heater during the winter
  • allergies
  • LASIK eye surgery
  • some medications, including antihistamines, nasal decongestants, birth control pills, and antidepressants
  • aging
  • long-term contact lens wear
  • staring at a computer for long hours
  • not blinking enough

Dry eye syndrome is more common in people age 50 and older. It’s estimated that there are 5 million Americans in this age group with the condition.

The majority of them are women, but the condition does occur in men.

Women who are pregnant, on hormone replacement therapy, or going through menopause are more at risk. The following underlying conditions can also increase your risk:

  • chronic allergies
  • thyroid disease or other conditions that push the eyes forward
  • lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and other immune system disorders
  • exposure keratitis, which occurs from sleeping with your eyes partially open
  • vitamin A deficiency, which is unlikely if you get sufficient nutrition

Some believe that too much exposure to the blue light that’s emitted from computer screens can contribute to dry eye syndrome.

“Humans evolved outside in an enormous source of blue light [from the sun],” says Kugler. “So to suggest that computer screens are causing more blue light issues than sunlight doesn’t make much intuitive sense.”

It is known, however, that staring at computer screens for many hours at a time suppresses our blink reflex, which leads to more dry eyes, he says.

It’s a good idea to take breaks when using a computer. Some people feel more comfortable wearing blue light filtering glasses when using computers, and that won’t cause any harm, he says.

Generally, dry eye is considered a chronic condition. It can be effectively managed but not cured, says Kugler.

Sleeping with a ceiling fan or other airflow tends to exacerbate dry eye symptoms, says Kugler. He recommends eliminating the source of the airflow.

He also recommends applying ointments in the eye overnight so that they maintain moisture until morning.

Evening dry eye is usually the result of whatever was done during the day, says Kugler. So if you’re staring at a computer or a book all day, with reduced blinking, then the eyes will feel drier at night.

By maintaining adequate ocular surface hydration throughout the day, symptoms may be better in the evening.

If your eyes feel dry and you’re suddenly unable to see as well as you used to, visit an eye doctor, ophthalmologist, or optometrist right away.

Dry eye is best treated early. If it goes untreated for a long time, it becomes more difficult to manage, says Kugler.

Read this article in Spanish.