Dry eye can be a temporary or chronic condition. When a condition is referred to as “chronic,” it means it has gone on for a long time. Your symptoms may get better or worse, but never go away completely.

Chronic dry eye occurs when your eyes can’t produce enough tears. This may be because your tears are evaporating too quickly. It can also be due to inflammation in or around the eye.

Temporary dry eye is often caused by environmental factors. You may see symptoms from wearing contact lenses too long or being in a dry environment. Chronic dry eye, on the other hand, is often caused by an underlying condition. Conditions involving the eye glands, skin diseases near the eyes, and allergies can all contribute to chronic dry eye.

Fortunately, there are many ways to treat this condition. Your doctor can help you find ways to reduce your symptoms, and you may also benefit from natural remedies you can try at home.

Here are the treatments available for chronic dry eye so you can find one that works best for you.

There are many medications and procedures available to treat chronic dry eye.

Sometimes, an underlying condition or external factor may lead to dry eye, so talk to your doctor to rule out another condition. Some medications can cause dry eye, for example, so you may need to simply switch medications.

Over-the-counter (OTC) drugs

One of the most popular ways to treat dry eye is through OTC eye drops, called artificial tears. Preservative-based eye drops stay on the shelf for a long time. Nonpreservative eye drops come in several disposable vials that you use once and throw away.

Artificial tears simply moisten your eyes. If you have moderate symptoms of dry eye, artificial tears may be all you need. However, you may have to apply them several times a day.

Ointments can also be used, but they tend to make vision cloudy. Ointments coat your eyes better than eye drops do. Because they make vision blurry, they’re best used right before bedtime.

Avoid using eye drops that reduce redness. These may eventually irritate your eyes because they constrict blood vessels.

Prescription medications

Your doctor may prescribe a medication to treat chronic dry eye. These medications may be given orally or as eye drops.

Most of them focus on reducing inflammation of your eyelids. When your eyelids are swollen, they prevent your oil glands from getting oil into your tears. Without oil, your tears evaporate too quickly.

Certain antibiotics have been found to stimulate oil production in the glands around the eyes. If your doctor believes your dry eye is caused primarily by inflammation, they may prescribe anti-inflammatory antibiotics.

Prescription eyedrops are often anti-inflammatory as well. One examples is cyclosporine (Restasis). Cyclosporine is also used to treat patients with rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis. This drug suppresses the immune system so that the body stops attacking itself. Lifitegrast (Xiidra) is another prescription medication specifically approved for chronic dry eye treatment.

Eye inserts

When regular OTC tear replacement drops don’t work, eye inserts might be an option. These small, clear tubes of medication look like grains of rice and go into your eye like contacts.

You place the inserts in your eye between your eyeball and lower eyelid. Medicine is released throughout the day to keep your eye moist.


In addition to prescription and OTC medications, certain procedures may be used to treat chronic dry eye. This includes:

  • Closing your tear ducts. If your chronic dry eye doesn’t respond to traditional methods, your doctor may recommend this procedure to partially or completely plug your tear ducts. The idea is that tears will stay in your eyes longer if there is nowhere for them to drain. Punctal plugs are made of silicone and are removable.
  • Special contacts. You may find relief from chronic dry eye by wearing scleral or bandage contact lenses. These special contacts are designed to protect the surface of your eye and prevent moisture from escaping. This option is helpful if your chronic dry eye is caused mainly by losing tears too quickly.
  • Clearing blocked oil glands. Your doctor may recommend a procedure known as LipiFlow thermal pulsation to clear blocked oil glands. The technique involves placing what looks like a large contact lens over your eye and behind your eyelids. Another shield is placed outside your eyelids and both devices apply heat to your eyelids. The treatment takes about 12 minutes.

There are several natural treatments that may help chronic dry eye. Examples include:

  • A warm, wet cloth. Hold this over your eyes for five minutes to reduce dry eye symptoms.
  • Massage your eyelids with a mild soap, such as baby shampoo. Close your eyes, apply the soap with your fingertips, and gently massage your eyelids.
  • Omega-3 supplements. Adding supplements and foods into your diet that contain omega-3 fatty acids may help relieve your symptoms by reducing inflammation in your body. More research is needed, but you may benefit from taking fish oil supplements or eating foods like flaxseed, salmon, and sardines.
  • Castor oil eye drops. Castor oil may help reduce tear evaporation, which can improve your symptoms. Artificial tear eyedrops that contain castor oil are available. Always talk to your doctor before trying any natural remedy.

Two examples of alternative therapies that may help reduce chronic dry eye symptoms include acupuncture and intense-pulsed light therapy.

One study showed that acupuncture may have benefits when compared to artificial tears, but more research is needed. One theory is that acupuncture reduces pain and inflammation, therefore decreasing eye irritation and improving dry eye symptoms.

Intense pulsed light (IPL) therapy is an alternative treatment that’s typically used to reduce rosacea and acne symptoms. In one study for chronic dry eye, 93 percent of participants reported they were satisfied with their degree of symptoms after treatment with IPL therapy.

There are some at-home changes you can make that may improve your chronic dry eye symptoms. These include:

  • wearing sunglasses with side shields to prevent tears from evaporating
  • blinking often when doing the same task for a long time, like reading or looking at a computer
  • using a cool mist humidifier to add moisture to the air
  • drinking water throughout the day to stay hydrated
  • avoiding smoking and limiting exposure to secondhand smoke

The treatment you choose to treat your chronic dry eye depends on a variety of factors. You may need a different treatment if your chronic dry eye is caused by an underlying condition. It also depends on the severity of your symptoms and what you’re comfortable with. Work with your doctor to find the best solution for you.