Most cases of dry eye can be addressed with over-the-counter (OTC) eye drops, but some may require prescription drops or surgery.

We all get dry eyes at some point. Maybe you spent too long staring at a screen or pollen is leaving your eyes gritty and parched. Being tired or spending long periods behind the wheel can also contribute to dry eyes. But for some people, dry eye is an ongoing annoyance.

In addition to environmental factors, an underlying condition could be contributing to your dry eyes — and treating the condition may require different approaches. If you’re tired of irritated, gritty eyes that get in the way of your daily activities, keep reading to learn more about dry eye and how to manage it.

EDE is behind over 80% of dry eye cases. EDE is caused by poor tear quality production and is often due to a physical blockage or inflammation in the eyelid’s oil glands, known as meibomian glands. Oil produced by healthy meibomian glands constitutes the outermost layer of the tear film and delays tear evaporation.

Blinking refreshes and evenly distributes the tear film across the ocular surface. Infrequent blinking can often contribute to EDE because the less you blink, the more likely you are to accumulate debris on the edges of your lids, leading to gland blockages.

Likewise, spending extended periods staring at screens can reduce how frequently you blink, also increasing the risk of EDE.

People with EDE will usually experience:

ADDE, which accounts for 10% of dry eye cases, is an eye condition caused by a reduction in the eye’s ability to produce the watery component of natural tears. In some cases, it can be caused by Sjögren’s syndrome. Sjögren’s dry eye is a subcategory of ADDE.

Dry eye that is not caused by Sjögren’s syndrome tends to occur later in life. Older age, viral infections, and damage to you tear glands or ducts can be contributing factors.

Likewise, undergoing cataract or refractive surgery — such as LASIK, LASEK, or PRK — can also increase your risk of developing ADDE.

Symptoms of non-Sjögren’s dry eye are similar to what many people associate with dry eye. These symptoms include:

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Research from 2020 suggests that having ADDE can contribute to the development of EDE.

While age, environmental factors, and viral infections can contribute to non-Sjögren’s dry eye, Sjögren’s dry eye is linked to Sjögren’s syndrome, which is an autoimmune condition.

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Dry, gritty eyes that are red and burning are fairly common symptoms. But you might also experience the following:

Occasional dry eyes can often be remedied with OTC artificial tears. But if you have symptoms that don’t resolve after a few days, you might be experiencing a more serious form of dry eye. Be sure to schedule an appointment with an experienced eye doctor to undergo a thorough eye exam.

The exam will center on determining the quality and quantity of your tears. Likewise, your eye doctor will likely ask about your medical history and determine if any physical damage to the eye area, glands, or ducts might be causing your dry eye.

The right treatment for dry eye will depend on the factors contributing to your dry eye and the severity of your symptoms.

Mild cases may benefit from preservative-free OTC artificial tears, whereas more severe cases may require a procedure that temporarily blocks the tear ducts to prevent natural tears from draining too quickly.

In other cases, you may be prescribed eye drops to increase tear production.

To address the inflammation associated with dry eye, your doctor may also recommend treatments such as artificial tears, prescription eye drops, or eyelid hygiene habits, such as using a warm compress and wiping your eyelids daily.

While dry eye can be a mild annoyance for some people, for others, it can interfere with their daily activities.

While the three common forms of dry eye tend to share symptoms, the underlying causes vary.

If you have dry eyes and are using OTC artificial tears for extended periods to manage symptoms, schedule an appointment with your eye doctor.