Dealing with painful, irritated eyes while driving is not only annoying, but also dangerous. According to a study published in the American Journal of Ophthalmology, people with dry eyes are more likely to have slower response times when driving. They are also more likely to miss targets, such as crosswalks or potential obstructions in the road.

Whether you’re making a short trip or in it for a long haul, these tips can help keep your eyes comfortable on the road.

How driving affects your eyes

Multiple things can cause dry eyes; one is increased tear evaporation. When you’re driving, or engaging in any activity that requires intense concentration, you tend to blink less. As a result, your tears will evaporate more easily, and your eyes will feel drier.

Nighttime driving can also cause a glare to reflect off the dry, irregular surface of the cornea. As a result, you may feel you have more difficulty driving at night. You may also notice a glare during sunset, when the sun is particularly bright, or when there is snow surrounding the roads.

Other risk factors that may contribute to your dry eyes include:

  • Being older than age 50. The eye’s natural tear production often decreases after this age.
  • Being female. Women tend to have drier eyes due to hormonal fluctuations that affect their tear production.
  • Wearing contact lenses.
  • Eating a diet that is low in vitamin A. Foods rich in vitamin A can help contribute to tear production. Examples of such foods include carrots and bell peppers.
  • Taking medications known to cause dry eyes. Examples include anxiety medications, diuretics, beta-blockers, and antihistamines.

While you can’t change some aspects of driving (such as maintaining concentration), there are some you can. Doing so may help to prevent discomfort and ideally improve your safety while driving.

Tips for driving if you have dry eyes

The next time you get behind the wheel, consider making these changes to protect your eyes:

  • Before you put the car in drive, apply artificial tears to lubricate your eyes. Merely rewetting your eyes or using drops to reduce redness likely won’t be enough to truly moisturize the eyes. Use drops that are labeled as “artificial tears.” While both drops and gels are available, gels shouldn’t be used before driving because they can cause some slight vision blurring.
  • If you’re going on a long drive, wear glasses instead of contact lenses. This can reduce eye dryness while driving.
  • Make an effort to blink more frequently and intermittently when driving. For instance, try blinking more often during radio commercials or every 10 to 15 minutes.
  • If you’re driving while the sun’s out, try wearing sunglasses that offer broad-spectrum UVA and UVB protection against the sun’s rays. However, your sunglasses shouldn’t be of a filter category that’s higher than four — otherwise, the lens will be too dark.
  • Wear glasses with an anti-glare coating to reduce the glare that can occur at night while driving.
  • Turn your air vents so that air doesn’t flow directly into your face. Otherwise, your tears are more likely to evaporate quickly, resulting in drier eyes.
  • Take periodic breaks from driving to rest your eyes. Pulling over to rest your dry eyes can help. Close your eyes for several seconds at a time, and let the tears coat your eyes. When you reopen your eyes, blink a few times so the tears can spread more evenly. Then apply more artificial tears.

These tips can help you have a more comfortable ride, reduce possible dry eye damage, and ensure a safe drive.

When to seek help for your dry eyes

While there are things you can do to help relieve dry eyes while driving, don’t ignore any signs indicating you need more than over-the-counter drops:

  • You continually see a glare when driving. While dry eyes can contribute to a glare that affects your vision, there are other eye conditions that may cause a glare. An example is cataracts, which is a clouding of the lens that is responsible for bending light rays.
  • You experience changes in your vision or blurry vision as a result of your dry eyes.
  • Your eyes always feel irritated or scratchy.

There are many treatments that can help relieve dry eye symptoms. Talk to your eye doctor about any symptoms you may be experiencing so that they can suggest a treatment that’s right for you.