If your eyes don’t produce enough tears or if your tears evaporate too quickly, you may have dry eye syndrome. With the right treatment, you can manage dry eye.
Tears help keep your eyes clean and decrease the risk of developing an eye infection. Without adequate tears, your eyes may experience:
- blurry vision
- sensitivity to light
Dry eye may also cause problems with your vision.
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In some cases, severe dry eye may cause:
- permanent vision loss
Dry eye is a common condition. Approximately
Common symptoms of dry eye syndrome can include:
- burning, itching, or stinging
- blurry vision
- light sensitivity
- watery eyes
- the feeling of having sand in your eyes
- discomfort when reading or using the computer for long periods
Many people with dry eyes notice their eyes feeling heavy, says Dr. Lance Kugler, a founding member of the Refractive Surgery Alliance (RSA).
Dry eye has several causes and risk factors.
Decreased tear production
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.
Increased tear evaporation
When your tears don’t have enough of any of these three layers, they quickly evaporate, and your eyes can’t maintain a steady supply of moisture.
Certain risk factors may make you more prone to dry eye.
Dry eye syndrome is more common in people
People who are pregnant, on hormone replacement therapy, or going through menopause also have a higher risk. The following underlying conditions can also increase your risk:
- chronic allergies
- exposure to the wind or dry air, such as constant exposure to a heater during the winter
- LASIK eye surgery
- some medications, including antihistamines, nasal decongestants, birth control pills, and antidepressants
- long-term contact lens wear
- not blinking enough
- 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 or from medical conditions like facial nerve palsy or having eyelids that are turned out, causing exposure of your cornea
- vitamin A deficiency, which is unlikely if you get sufficient nutrition
Some believe that too much exposure to the blue light emitted from computer screens can contribute to dry eye syndrome.
“Humans evolved outside in an enormous source of blue light [from the sun],” Kugler says. “So to suggest that computer screens are causing more blue light issues than sunlight doesn’t make much intuitive sense.”
However, 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.
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, Kugler says.
Treatment for dry eye syndrome can depend on the severity and can include:
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.
An 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, an eye doctor may recommend the plugs as a permanent solution.
The most commonly prescribed medication for dry eye syndrome is an anti-inflammatory called cyclosporine (Restasis). The drug increases the tear production in your eyes and lowers the risk of damage to your cornea. Xiidra is also a common prescription dry eye treatment.
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.
Though rarely prescribed, alternative medications can include cholinergics, such as pilocarpine. These medications help stimulate tear production.
If another medication is causing your eyes to become dry, a doctor may switch your prescription to find one that doesn’t dry out your eyes.
If you have severe dry eye syndrome and it doesn’t go away with other treatments, a doctor may recommend surgery.
A procedure can permanently plug the drainage holes at the inner corners of your eyes to allow your eyes to maintain an adequate amount of tears.
If you tend to have dry eyes, you can use a humidifier to increase moisture in your room. Limiting your contact lens wear and the time you spend in front of the computer or television may also help.
Kugler notes that there are also treatments, such as LipiFlow, which helps tears flow more easily, and BlephEx, which an eye care professional performs to clean the eyelid.
Some believe omega-3 fatty acid supplements are helpful for people with dry eye. But the
If environmental factors cause your dry eyes, certain lifestyle changes may help. This can include avoiding exposure to cigarette smoke and protecting your eyes by wearing eyewear during outdoor activities, especially when it’s windy.
Adding a humidifier to your home can put moisture in the air, which may help to reduce dry eyes.
The following includes frequently asked questions about dry eye.
Is there a cure for dry eyes?
Generally, dry eye is considered a chronic condition. It can be effectively managed but not cured, Kugler says.
Which contacts are good for dry eyes?
Soft contacts are usually more comfortable for people with dry eyes than hard contact lenses, says Beverly Hills eye surgeon Dr. Brian Boxer Wachler.
Soft lenses can stay moist and allow the eye to breathe better than hard lenses do. Some patients find daily contact lenses more comfortable than extended-wear contact lenses.
What are the best eye drops for dry eyes?
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 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.
What causes dry eyes at night?
Evening dry eye usually results from whatever you did during the day, Kugler says. So if you’re staring at a computer or a book all day, with reduced blinking, then the eyes will feel drier at night.
Maintaining enough surface hydration of your eye throughout the day may improve symptoms in the evening.
What causes dry eyes in the morning?
Sleeping with a ceiling fan or other airflow tends to exacerbate dry eye symptoms, Kugler says. He recommends eliminating the source of the airflow.
He also recommends applying ointments in the eye overnight to maintain moisture until you wake up in the morning.
Dry eye can result from insufficient tear production or excessive tear evaporation.
If you’re experiencing dry eye, you can take steps to help your eyes feel better. You may feel relief using artificial tears, but if that’s not enough, other treatments, including medications and surgery, may bring some relief.
Talk with an ophthalmologist to find out which treatments may work for you.