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What is dry eye?

Dry eye occurs when your tear glands don’t produce enough tears to lubricate your eyes. This condition can be uncomfortable and painful. It can be caused by both medical and environmental factors.

Dry eye syndrome is a general term used to describe dry eyes caused by either poor quality tears or diminished tear production. The symptoms include:

  • scratchy, dry, and painful sensation in both of your eyes
  • feeling like something is in your eyes
  • redness
  • mucus in or around your eyes
  • light sensitivity
  • fatigued eyes
  • blurred vision

There are a number of factors that can cause dry eyes. These include:

  • aging
  • certain medications
  • certain medical conditions
  • environmental factors
  • contacts
  • allergies

The best remedy for your dry eye will depend on several individual factors. Some people have chronic dry eye and experience symptoms nearly every day. Others have dry eye that occurs seasonally in relation to allergies. And some may notice their dry eye is triggered when they increase the time they spend looking at a screen. This means there isn’t a perfect, one-size-fits-all, over-the-counter (OTC) treatment for dry eye.

When we created our list of homeopathic and OTC remedies for dry eye, we considered the following:

  • clinical research, whenever it was available
  • ease of use, according to product descriptions
  • active ingredients, according to packaging
  • hundreds of user reviews

Pricing guide

  • $ = under $10
  • $$ = over $10

There are a number of nonprescription products for dry eyes that may bring you relief. Eye drops or artificial tears can bring you temporary relief. If you find that these irritate your eyes, you may want to look for a preservative-free product to see if that is more comfortable.

Ointments are thicker than drops and are designed to coat the eyeball. They may provide longer-term relief from dryness. However, ointments can impair your vision while you’re using them. It’s best to use them before bedtime and stick to drops during the day.

Best for treating dry eye overnight

Systane Nighttime Relief Lubricant Ointment

  • Price: $$
  • Type: ointment

This ointment is preservative-free and meant to be applied before you lay down for the night. Mineral oil and white petrolatum are meant to lubricate your eyes while you sleep so that your eyes wake up refreshed and ready for the day. The ointment may have a learning curve as you get used to applying it; reviewers caution to squeeze the tube carefully as you only need a tiny bit with each application.

Best for dry eye caused by screen time

Visine Dry Eye Relief Tired Eye Drops

  • Price: $
  • Type: eye drops

Visine’s Tired Eye formula is meant to perk up eyes that have grown dry from too much time looking at a laptop or mobile device. Reviews say this is frequently recommended by eye doctors, and that it works quickly to relieve itchiness, redness, and inflammation. These drops might be helpful in a pinch, but remember that dry eye related to digital eyestrain can also be treated by reducing your screen time, if possible.

Best for older eyes

TheraTears Dry Eye Therapy Eye Drops

  • Price: $$
  • Type: eye drops

As you age, it is natural to experience more eye dryness. These drops are made to relieve dryness in addition to occasional blurred vision and tearing. These eye drops are preservative-free. The brand says that this product contains five of the electrolytes found in natural tears. Reviewers say that the drops have helped with their itching and burning dry eye symptoms.

Best for use after LASIK

Refresh Optive Preservative-Free

Price: $$
Type: eye drops

These eye drops could help address the itch, irritation, and dryness that may occur after laser eye surgery, like LASIK. Active ingredients include two types of lubricants, and the formula is preservative-free. Users mention that this product’s unique single-use packaging is helpful when traveling. Many reviewers also note that this product worked well for them after cataract or LASIK surgery.

OTC treatments aren’t the only way to treat dry eye at home.

Change your environment

Environmental factors are a common cause of dry eyes. When possible, it’s helpful to avoid cigarette smoke, and to stay indoors when it’s windy.

Using appropriate eyewear to protect your eyes from wind when engaging in activities such as riding a bike or motorcycle, skiing, or riding in a convertible can also help lessen dry eye.

It may also be helpful to get a humidifier for your home to add moisture to the air.

Supplement your diet with fatty acids

Research indicates that eating more omega-3 fatty acids may relieve the symptoms of dry eyes. This fat is known to reduce inflammation in the body. It may help relieve dry eyes by reducing eye inflammation, allowing for more tear production and higher quality tears.

You can use omega-3 supplements, or eat more foods rich in this nutrient, such as:

  • ground flaxseed and flaxseed oil
  • palm oil
  • soybean oil
  • chia seeds
  • fatty fish, including salmon, tuna, sardines, and mackerel
  • walnuts
  • eggs that have been supplemented with omega-3 fats

If these remedies don’t bring you relief, or if you think you have a more serious condition causing your dry eyes, it’s time to see your doctor. Here are some symptoms that should prompt you to call your doctor for an appointment:

  • redness and swelling
  • pain beyond mild irritation
  • an eye injury
  • flaking or discharge from the eye
  • joint pain, swelling, and stiffness
  • dry mouth
  • continued dryness after a few days of self-care

Dry eyes are usually temporary, and are a natural part of aging for most people. But in some cases, the condition is caused by something more serious. Try home care for relief and see your doctor if needed.

Aside from using eye drops or ointment, there are several simple ways to help prevent dry eyes. These include:

Avoid places with a lot of air movement

This means limiting your exposure to fans and hair dryers, and by wearing wraparound sunglasses when outside on windy days to protect your eyes from drying out.

Turn on a humidifier in the wintertime

Home heating systems can cause the air in your home to dry out — and dry out your eyes. But using a humidifier can help the air stay moist. If you don’t have a humidifier, you can put a pan of water on your radiator to add water into the air.

Rest your eyes

Frequent reading, TV watching, and computer use can dry out your eyes, so it’s important to take breaks so your eyes can regain some of their moisture.

Stay away from cigarette smoke

Cigarette smoke can irritate dry eyes and increase one’s risk of developing dry eyes in the first place.

Use warm compresses, then wash your eyelids

Placing a warm compress on your eyes and then washing your eyelids with baby shampoo helps to release some of the oil in your eyelids’ glands. This should improve the quality of your tears. Be sure you completely rinse soap from your eyes when finished to avoid irritating them.

Try an omega-3 fatty acid supplement

Some people report dry eye relief after adding omega-3 fatty acids to their diet. These can be found naturally in foods like oily fish and flax seeds, but can also be purchased in liquid or pill supplement form.

Can you cure dry eyes permanently?

Dry eye is a chronic condition. You can’t cure it. OTC eye drops, ointments, lifestyle changes, and prescription-strength products can all be a part of managing dry eye symptoms.

Does dry eye go away?

Dry eye does not fully go away. However, you may notice that seasonal allergies or certain activities make your dry eye symptoms flare up. Avoiding the things that seem to irritate your eyes could mean you experience fewer symptoms.

Does lack of sleep cause dry eyes?

Lack of sleep can impact how hydrated your eyes are. That’s why your eyes can appear dry and bloodshot when you are tired. Some people’s eyelids don’t fully seal in moisture during the night, which can also lead to dry eye.

Can dry eyes lead to blindness?

In very rare, severe cases, dry eye can lead to other conditions that eventually can cause blindness. Corneal ulcers caused by dry eye can scar your eyeball if you don’t receive treatment. But in places like the United States where medical care and OTC lubrication products are available, dry eye can be managed fairly easily and blindness would not be an expected outcome.

Dry eye is a common and chronic condition that can often be managed at home. Eye drops and ointments are some of the products you can buy to help manage your symptoms. You can look for preservative-free products and products with plant-based active ingredients if you’re looking to manage your dry eye naturally.

Sometimes dry eye can’t be managed with home remedies and OTC products alone. Prescription strength eye drops and ointments may be what you need to help your dry eye symptoms. Speak with your eye doctor if you are experiencing regular pain and irritation from dry eye that interferes with your life.