Dry eyes can have many causes, many of which may seem to come out of nowhere. Typically, this can be solved with home remedies or OTC eye drops, but if it persists, you may want to see a doctor.

Dry eyes can be difficult to deal with. They can cause symptoms such as eye itching, redness, and blurriness. When they develop suddenly, they can be an unpleasant surprise.

Fortunately, sudden dry eye is often temporary and easy to resolve.

Dry eye can be caused by a variety of factors, some of which can be temporary or environmental. This can cause dry eye that develops suddenly. Dry eye can also develop suddenly due to a change in habits, medications, or the time of year.

Reasons for sudden dry can include:

  • a new cosmetic product
  • a new medication
  • cleaning products used in the home
  • the appearance of pollen or another seasonal allergen
  • spending more time than normal in an environment with dust, pet dander, or mold
  • reading for extended times
  • increased screen time, including computer use
  • doing close-up work
  • exposure to cigarette smoke
  • exposure to fire smoke
  • time in a windy environment or sleeping with a fan
  • taking a long flight
  • spending time at high altitudes when you’re not used to them
  • using a sleep apnea mask
  • cannabis or tobacco smoking
  • being in a very sunny environment
  • exacerbation of blepharitis, an inflammation of the eyelids

Certain medications are more likely to cause dry eyes. These include:

Allergies can be triggered overnight. This can lead to waking up with dry eyes. Sometimes, this is because people sleep in rooms with dry air, dust, pet dander, mold, or other allergens. It can also be the result of sleep treatments, such as sleeping pills or sleep apnea masks aggravating dry eye.

Additional causes of waking up with dry can include:

Dry eyes are often a temporary condition.

For instance, dry eyes caused by environmental factors such as smoke, wind, or dust can resolve when the person leaves that environment. Similarly, taking a break from activities such as prolonged reading and screen time can help restore moisture.

Over-the-counter (OTC) products, such as artificial tears, can help resolve mild dry eye caused by allergies and other factors.

Read more about treatments for chronic dry eye here.

When to see a doctor

Not all dry eye is easy to resolve. Sometimes, dryness persists and won’t be helped with OTC treatments. This can be a sign of medication side effects or of an underlying medical condition. It’s a good idea to make a medical appointment if dry eye doesn’t resolve with OTC treatments or after removing the trigger.

A doctor can test for possible underlying medical conditions and prescribe stronger treatments, such as prescription eye drops or tear duct-blocking plugs. If your dry eye is caused by allergies, treatments such as immunotherapy allergy shots can help.

Learn more about when you should see a doctor for a dry eye here.

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There are a few different treatments that can help fix dry eyes. The best treatment depends on the person and the cause of their dry eyes. Possible options include:

  • Artificial tears: OTC artificial tears can help moisturize eyes. They can be used as often as you need them.
  • Breaks from screen time: Taking breaks from screen time and reading to rest your eyes and blink can help prevent and relieve dry eye.
  • Wind protection: Wearing protective products such as sunglasses can help keep the wind out of your eyes and can reduce the risk of dry eye.
  • Avoid smoke: Smoke is a common dry eye trigger. Quitting smoking and avoiding secondhand smoke can help reduce dry eye.
  • Staying hydrated: Drinking enough water is a good way to reduce the risk of dry eye. Read more about staying hydrated.
  • Increasing Omega-3s in your diet: Omega-3 is linked to eye health. You can try taking omega-3 supplements or adding foods high in omega-3, such as fish and flaxseed, to your diet. Talk with your doctor before you begin taking any supplements.
  • Warm compresses: Using a warm compress on your eye can help increase your tear production and reduce any inflammation.
  • Prescription eye drops: A doctor can prescribe stronger eye drops that can help increase the moisture in your eyes.
  • Tear duct plugs: Tear duct plugs stop moisture from leaving your eyes. A doctor can prescribe them if your dryness isn’t helped with treatments such as eye drops.
  • Allergy treatments: Sometimes, treating allergies with options such as allergy medications or shots can help relieve dry eye.
  • Using a humidifier: A humidifier can help increase the moisture in your home and can be a good option for some people with dry eye.

Dry eye can happen due to factors that change daily, such as the air quality around you or the time you spend looking at screens.

Environmental changes such as elevation, plane rides, dust, mold, pet dander, and more can all trigger eye allergies, as can the change of seasons when pollen can enter the air you breathe. Additionally, changing the medication you take can sometimes lead to dry eye as a side effect.

Resolving dry eye can sometimes be as simple as removing the trigger or using OTC eye drops, but it’s best to see a doctor for persistent dry eye that isn’t helped by these methods.