Some tips to help prevent and manage dry eyes while driving may include applying OTC artificial tears, wearing sunglasses, and avoiding contact lenses, among others.

Dealing with painful, irritated eyes while driving is not only annoying but also dangerous.

A 2022 study found that dry eyes impacted the driving ability of nearly 30% of people with dry eyes and 41% of people with severe dry eyes, compared to 15% of people without the condition.

Similarly, a 2017 study found that dry eyes impacted many daily activities, such as work, using a computer, and driving. The authors also note that dry eyes were associated with poor driving habits and performance.

Keep reading to learn more about the causes and symptoms of dry eyes and how to manage them on the road.

The National Eye Institute (NEI) suggests that dry eye may be caused by a reduction in tear production or your tears evaporating too quickly.

The eye is covered by a tear film. This helps lubricate and protect your eye, as well as manage light refraction.

Several factors may affect your tear film while driving, resulting in tear dysregulation. These may include:

  • direct airflow to the face, such as from air ventilation or winds from an open window
  • not blinking enough, such as due to concentration while driving at night
  • glares, such as the sunlight on snow, wet pavement, or windows
  • bright, flickering lights

Dry eyes may also affect other aspects of your vision that could impact your driving, including:

  • near or distance vision
  • peripheral vision
  • color vision

Other risk factors for dry eye

According to the NEI, other risk factors may also contribute to dry eye, including:

  • being older than age 50 years
  • being assigned female at birth
  • wearing contact lenses
  • eating a diet low in vitamin A
  • taking certain medications, such as for allergies, hypertension, and depression
  • having certain health conditions, such as diabetes, Sjögren syndrome, and lupus
  • previously having eye surgery

If you start to experience dry eyes while driving, speak with a healthcare professional. They could offer a proper diagnosis and develop a treatment plan that’s right for you.

The following tips may help you prevent or manage dry eyes while driving.

Apply artificial tears

Applying over-the-counter (OTC) artificial tears, or eye drops, before driving may help keep your eyes lubricated and protected. These are the most common treatment for mild to moderate dry eye.

Gels and ointments are also available OTC. However, the American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends only applying these at night because they may cause temporary blurriness.

Wear glasses

If you’re going on a long drive, wear glasses instead of contact lenses. Contacts are more likely to cause dry eye symptoms because they could affect tear film stability and tear production regulation.

Blink more frequently

Intense concentration like driving or using a computer screen may cause you to blink less frequently, leading to dry eye. Blinking more often could help increase tear production and tear film stability.

Try blinking more often during radio commercials or every 10 to 15 minutes.

Protect your eyes

Sunlight and winds blowing in the car from an open window may increase dry eyes.

The NEI recommends wearing wraparound sunglasses. These could help block out harmful sunrays and protect your eyes from environmental irritants.

Polarised lenses may also help reduce sunlight glare.

Re-direct ventilation

Direct airflow into the eyes may cause your tears to evaporate more quickly, leading to dry eyes. Try turning your vents away from your eyes so that air doesn’t flow directly into your face.

Take periodic breaks

Taking breaks and letting your eyes rest from driving may help ease dry eye symptoms.

Try closing your eyes for several seconds and letting the tears coat your eyes. When you reopen your eyes, blink a few times so the tears can spread more evenly.

If your eyes still feel dry, you can apply more artificial tears.

Some OTC remedies like artificial tears may help relieve dry eyes while driving. However, you shouldn’t use artificial tears with preservatives more than four times per day.

Speak with a healthcare professional if your dry eyes don’t improve after a few weeks or if you experience any of the following symptoms:

A doctor could provide a proper diagnosis and develop a treatment plan that’s right for you. Depending on the underlying cause of your dry eyes, treatments may include:

  • lifestyle and dietary changes
  • prescription eye drops
  • tear duct plugs
  • topical anti-inflammatories
  • pulse light therapy

Why do my eyes get so dry while driving?

Your eyes may get dry while driving for several reasons, such as blinking less often, being exposed to sunlight and glare, and being exposed to winds from an open window or air from your vents.

How do you prevent eye fatigue while driving?

Some ways to help prevent eye fatigue while driving include blinking more often, wearing glasses instead of contact lenses, taking breaks while driving, and wearing wraparound sunglasses when it’s sunny outside.

How do you know if dry eyes are serious?

Speak with a healthcare professional if your dry eyes don’t improve after using OTC remedies for a few weeks. Get immediate medical attention if you experience sudden blurriness, floaters, or blindness. These symptoms may be a sign of retinal detachment.

Driving may cause dry eyes in several ways, such as causing your tears to evaporate too quickly or reducing tear production.

It’s important to prevent and manage dry eyes while driving, as they may impair your driving abilities.

Speak with a healthcare professional if you continue to experience dry eyes. They could develop a treatment plan that’s right for you.