Glaucoma is a vision condition that results from damage to your optic nerve, often due to elevated pressure in the eye. It’s one of the most common causes of vision loss in adults and can lead to blindness without treatment.

Eye drops and other treatments can cause dry eyes in many people with glaucoma. People who have glaucoma might already be at heightened risk for developing dry eyes because the conditions share some risk factors.

Dry eyes can be chronic and uncomfortable, interfering with daily life. It’s possible to treat both glaucoma and dry eyes with a combination approach. We’ll overview the link between these conditions, symptoms, and available treatment options.

It’s common for dry eye and glaucoma to occur together. Dry eye is a type of ocular surface disease (OSD), which also includes blepharitis (eyelid inflammation).

2020 research states the global prevalence of OSD in people with glaucoma is around 40 to 59 percent, substantially higher than the general population.

There are a few reasons for this, including:

  • the conditions share risk factors such as age (being over 40) and having diabetes
  • eye drops used to treat glaucoma can cause dry eye
  • laser surgery for glaucoma can cause dry eye

Dry eye and glaucoma can be difficult to treat. Although dry eye is often more painful and irritating for the patient, glaucoma is a more serious condition as it can lead to blindness. Because of this, eye doctors will focus on treating glaucoma first, even if that makes relief of dry eyes more difficult.

However, your doctor will do their best to ensure both dry eye and glaucoma are treated for the best quality of life outcome.

Glaucoma is the name for a group of conditions that cause damage to the nerves in your eyes. Glaucoma results in vision loss and can lead to blindness without treatment. It can occur in one or both eyes.

Medical researchers have long thought that glaucoma only occurred when the pressure built up inside the eyes. Newer research indicates that glaucoma can develop even when the pressure inside the eyes is normal.

Glaucoma symptoms

Glaucoma doesn’t always cause symptoms early on, so people are often unaware they have it in the early stages. This is especially true if you have a type of glaucoma called open-angle glaucoma. About 90 percent of people with glaucoma have this type, and it’s the second leading cause of legal blindness in the U.S.

When symptoms of any type of glaucoma develop, they may include:

While it’s possible to slow or stop the progression of glaucoma, any vision loss caused by glaucoma is irreversible. Detecting glaucoma early and getting treatment quickly can prevent blindness. It’s important to see an eye doctor as soon as possible if you have any glaucoma symptoms.

Glaucoma can be screened for and detected by a routine eye exam with your ophthalmologist. The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) advises adults have a comprehensive medical eye examination at age 40 if they haven’t had one yet.

Dry eye is a common eye condition. It happens when your eyes can’t make enough tears, or when the tears your eyes make don’t keep your eyes moist enough. When your eyes aren’t well moisturized, they can become uncomfortable and inflamed.

In some cases, dry eye is temporary. For example, you might get a flare of dry eye from being outside on a very windy day, or from a long shift of computer work. In other cases, dry eye can be a chronic condition.

Dry eye symptoms

Dry eye can be very irritating and can make it difficult to complete everyday tasks. Especially when chronic, dry eye can have far-reaching impacts on your quality of life.

Symptoms of dry eye can include:

  • watery eyes
  • blurry vision
  • stinging or burning feeling in your eyes
  • a scratchy feeling
  • eye redness
  • sensitivity to light
  • feeling that something is in your eye (when there isn’t)
  • sore or tired eyes
  • difficulty inserting or wearing contact lenses
  • low night vision

Some people with dry eyes may experience discharge from their eyes or eyelids. Discharge can also be a sign of eye infection.

Some cases of night vision can be treated with over-the-counter eye drops. However, prescription-strength treatment and lifestyle changes can help many people.

You’ll likely need a combination of treatments to help both dry eye and glaucoma. You might go through several treatment options until you find the combination that is most helpful for your eyes.

According to NIH and AAO, treatment approaches include:

  • switching to preservative-free glaucoma eye drops
  • using specialized combination eye drops to reduce the amount of drying preservatives that touch your eyes
  • receiving laser surgery for your glaucoma
  • using artificial tears to moisturize your eyes
  • using oral medications that can bring down eyelid swelling and improve tear production
  • using corticosteroid creams or drops to bring down inflammation

Your doctor might also recommend lifestyle changes, such as:

  • using humidifiers
  • avoiding the use of a hair dryer
  • using regular eyelid cleansing solution to reduce inflammation
  • taking scheduled breaks from reading or computer work to rest your eyes
  • using hot compresses on your eyes to bring down inflammation
  • avoiding windy or dry environments
  • quitting smoking and avoiding secondhand smoke
  • always wearing sunglasses and other protective eyewear
  • staying hydrated

Factors that are unrelated to glaucoma can also cause dry eye. Sometimes these factors can occur alongside glaucoma and can make treating it more challenging.

Dry eye and glaucoma commonly occur together. They share risk factors such as age and having diabetes, and some glaucoma treatments can cause dry eye.

Treating both conditions together can be challenging. While dry eye may be more painful and difficult to deal with in the short term, glaucoma is more dangerous to your vision in the long term. This means glaucoma treatment will be prioritized.

However, doctors will always attempt to treat both conditions. In most cases, you’ll receive a combination of treatment approaches that can help preserve your vision and restore your eye comfort.