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Signs That You Have Chronic Dry Eye

Medically reviewed by Judith Marcin, MD on August 24, 2016Written by Sonia Pearson on August 24, 2016

Have you been dealing with dry eyes for months on end? You might have chronic dry eye. This form of dry eye lasts for a long period and doesn’t go away easily.

Before you go to the doctor, it’s important to look closely at your symptoms.

Temporary vs. chronic dry eye

It’s important to note the difference between temporary and chronic dry eyes. Temporary dry eyes can be treated quickly and easily. You may simply have to adjust your daily habits to resolve them.

Temporary dry eyes are usually caused by leaving your contacts in too long or being in a windy location. You can also resolve temporary dry eye by avoiding smoky or dry places. If you have to look at a computer screen for a few hours, take frequent breaks to make sure you blink. For the most part, temporary dry eyes are a result of your environment.

Chronic dry eyes, on the other hand, aren’t as easy to resolve. You may have chronic dry eyes if environmental changes have no effect. This may indicate an underlying condition.

So how do you know if you have chronic dry eyes? Examine the signs and symptoms.

Signs and symptoms of chronic dry eye

Sometimes your eyes might feel a little dry and scratchy. This is normal at the end of a long day staring at a computer screen or your mobile phone. However, when the symptoms start to add up, you may be dealing with something more.

The symptoms of dry eyes center around your tear production. If you aren’t producing enough tears, or your tears are out of balance, you will get dry eyes. Symptoms of dry eyes depend on the quality of your tears and how many tears you have.

Symptoms of chronic dry eye may include:

  • a scratchy feeling in the eyes
  • too many tears
  • a stringy eye excretion
  • a sensitivity to smoke, wind, or dry environments

Other signs of chronic dry eye may include:

  • burning and stinging in your eyes
  • a sensation of grit or other particles lodged under your eyelid
  • moments of blurry or cloudy eyesight
  • fatigue of the eyes, or heavy eyelids

Low blink rate

People who have chronic dry eye may notice that their tolerance for reading and computing has decreased. If you notice a task that requires high focus is difficult, it may be dry eyes. These signs of dry eye occur because of a lack of blinking. Dry eye caused by a low blink rate can often be treated by taking breaks.

Lack of tears

You may have chronic dry eyes if no tears fall when you want to cry. You might think that a lack of tears is part of an emotional problem. But it may simply be that your eyes physically cannot produce tears. If you ever can’t cry when you need to, ask your doctor about dry eye.

Discomfort with contact lenses

Another sign of chronic dry eye is a loss of comfort with contacts. You may discover that your eyes feel dry and scratchy with a certain pair of contacts. For many people with dry eye, this can be remedied by changing the lens brand or type of lens. You can also try changing your contact solution and the length of time you wear contacts each day. If nothing changes your symptoms, the culprit could be chronic dry eye.

What are the underlying causes of chronic dry eye?

To understand how dry eye works, you need to understand tear film. The surface of your eye is called the cornea. The cornea has a tear film made up of three layers of mucus, water, and oil. These layers must be in balance for your eyes to stay moist.

There are two main types of dry eye. One is called aqueous tear-deficient dry eye, or lack of tears. The other is called evaporative dry eye, which means tears evaporate too quickly.

In both cases, the cornea may become unhealthy. Aqueous tear-deficient dry eye occurs because the eye isn’t producing enough water. Evaporative dry eye occurs because oil glands don’t produce enough oil, allowing tears to vaporize quickly.

For both types of dry eye, there might be an underlying cause. Your eyes can lose moisture because of anti-inflammatory medications. You could also have an irritated oil gland. A hormone imbalance can cause dry eyes, especially with the hormone estrogen.

Dry eyes can also be caused by illnesses. Rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, thyroid issues, and diabetes can all affect the eyes. You may also get dry eyes if your eyelids are swollen. This can be the result of certain skin conditions, eye injury, or trauma.

Who is likely to develop chronic dry eye?

Certain people are more susceptible to dry eye than others. Adults over the age of 50 tend to experience dry eyes as their tear glands age. Women experiencing estrogen fluctuations may also get dry eyes. Pregnancy, birth control pills, and menopause can all cause dry eyes.

Others who are more likely to develop chronic dry eye include:

  • people with thyroid conditions
  • people with autoimmune disorders
  • people with conditions that affect the nerves to the eye
  • people on medications that dry up mucus membranes

Takeaway

The signs and symptoms of chronic dry eye are clear. Check the condition of your eyes to determine if you need to see your doctor. You may also want to get ahead of dry eyes if you have conditions that can cause it. Ask your doctor about the possibility of dry eyes if you have a chronic disease like rheumatoid arthritis or diabetes.

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