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What Causes Dry Eyes?

Medically reviewed by Judi Marcin, MD on August 24, 2016Written by Sonia Pearson on August 24, 2016
causes of dry eye

There are two types of dry eyes: temporary and chronic. Temporary dry eyes can often be simple to address. You can sometimes rid yourself of irritation by changing your environment or daily habits.

Chronic dry eyes, on the other hand, may have an underlying cause. For example, an illness could be causing your condition.

In order to resolve dry eyes, it’s important to understand the possible causes.

What does it feel like to have dry eyes?

First of all, you may be wondering if you have dry eyes. If you have more than one symptom, you should talk to a doctor. They can examine your eyes and test your tears for an imbalance in the tear film.

You need equal amounts of water, mucus, and oil in your tears. If there’s an imbalance, there may be a bigger issue.

If you have dry eyes, you might have some of the following symptoms.

  • discomfort in your eyes when you wear contacts
  • blurry or cloudy vision
  • producing too many tears
  • irritation, redness, and pain in your eyes
  • sensation of grit in your eyes, or like something’s in your eye that you can’t get out
  • inability to produce tears
  • tired or heavy eyes
  • difficulty reading off a computer or other screen
  • secretions from the eyes with a stringy consistency

If more than one of these symptoms has been an ongoing issue, you might have chronic dry eyes.

To find relief from your symptoms, you and your doctor should explore the causes. You need to know the reason so that you can resolve it.

Causes of dry eyes

There are many reasons you might have chronic dry eyes. It can be caused by anything from wearing your contacts too much to an autoimmune disease.

The causes of chronic dry eyes usually come from the environment, medication, inflammation, age, or another disease.

Environmental factors

Your environment and behavior have a lot to do with dry eyes. For example, eye makeup can cause dry eyes. When particles from makeup enter your tear film, they can thin the oil in your tears. So avoiding eye liner, mascara, and powder eye shadows can help reduce symptoms.

A smoky, windy, or dry environment can cause tears to evaporate quickly, leading to dry eyes. Set up a cool mist humidifier in your home to combat this.

Infrequent blinking caused by staring at a screen or a page, or while doing a task can dry out your eyes. Taking frequent breaks and making an effort to blink more can help.

Wearing contacts too long during the day can also cause dry eyes. Long-term use can thin out the tear film over your cornea

If any of these factors describe your environment, change them, and see if your dry eyes clear up. If they don’t, there may be a more serious cause.

Medication-induced dry eyes

Medications that dry out the sinuses can also dry out the eyes. This is because both the eyes and sinuses are mucus membranes.

Medications that can cause dry eyes include:

  • antihistamines that reduce allergic reactions
  • sleeping pills
  • high blood pressure medication, such as diuretics and beta-blockers
  • medicines that combat anxiety
  • over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers

If you’re on any of these medications, tell your doctor. Changing your medication may help. But if taking different medication doesn’t reduce your dry eye symptoms, you may be dealing with a different cause.

Body changes that cause dry eyes

You may experience dry eyes as a result of changes in your body. For example, dry eyes are sometimes a side effect of changes in hormones. It may occur when a woman is pregnant, taking birth control pills, or going through menopause.

Dry eyes can also occur as you age. Many adults over the age of 50 tend to see an increase in this condition.

Dry eyes from other medical issues

There are many medical conditions and procedures that can lead to dry eyes. For example, laser eye surgery can predispose your eyes to getting easily dried out. Other medical conditions that may lead to dry eyes include autoimmune diseases and conditions that include:

  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • lupus
  • diabetes
  • scleroderma
  • thyroid problems
  • Sjögren’s syndrome
  • vitamin D deficiency
  • damage to the tear glands
  • meibomian gland blockage or inflammation
  • blepharitis
  • rosacea and other inflammatory skin conditions

Getting treatment for any of these medical issues may resolve dry eyes. Talk to your doctor to find out if a medical condition is causing your dry eyes.

Takeaway

It’s a good rule of thumb to see the doctor when you have any symptoms of dry eyes that don’t go away. For example, if you’ve had dry eyes for weeks on end, you should go to the doctor. Your visit might reveal a deeper issue than just a lack of tears.

Remember, if you change your environment but dry eyes persist, you may have an underlying condition. If you change your medications but still experience dry eyes, maybe you have a vitamin deficiency. Getting to the doctor will help you resolve these issues and find effective solutions.

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