Dry eye describes a condition when the eye is unable to produce tears properly, or tears evaporate too quickly.
People with dry eye may experience a stinging or burning sensation in their eyes or feel as if something is caught in their eyes. The affected eye may be red and painful or emit a stringy discharge.
People with dry eye also sometimes experience blurred vision, or their eyes may get tired easily, especially when reading or using a computer.
There are a number of home remedies and lifestyle changes that can reduce symptoms of dry eye and prevent the condition. This article will look at both, along with medical treatments for when home remedies do not help.
Dry eyes can occur as a result of either the eyes not secreting enough tears or blepharitis, a condition in which the tears on the eye’s surface (cornea) evaporate too quickly. Oily skin or rosacea are risk factors for blepharitis, which can cause the oil layer in your tear film to be out of balance.
When you have blepharitis, the Meibomian glands on the eyelids that normally secrete oil can secrete too much oil. This disturbs the balance in the tear film, which has an aqueous (water) and an oil layer.
Applying warm compresses to the eyes and then gently washing the eyelids using baby shampoo can help release the oil in the tear glands. This improves the quality of tears if you have blepharitis.
If your dry eyes are due to aqueous insufficiency (lack of tears), prescription medication such as Restasis or Xiidra can help your lacrimal glands produce more tears. Artificial tears are another option.
There are many brands of artificial tears available on the market without prescription. Some people with dry eye find these helpful to relieve symptoms. The Sjögren’s Foundation recommends using artificial tears “frequently and regularly,” even when the eyes do not feel uncomfortable.
Lubricating gels are another option. Examples include Refresh PM or Lacrilube. Due to their thickness, these gels tend to blur vision, so it is usually best to apply them before bedtime. However, the upper and lower eyelids should be kept free of facial creams at bedtime, as these can get into the tear film.
In cold weather, using a bedside humidifier at night and adding a humidifier to a furnace can help to introduce some moisture back into the dry air.
Fans, wind, and hair dryers can make eyes dry. People with dry eye should avoid too much air movement from these devices. Sunglasses may help protect the eyes from the wind when outside.
It is recommended that people with dry eye drink as much as 8–10 glasses of water a day and stop smoking if they smoke.
Supplements or dietary sources of omega-3 fatty acids may decrease symptoms of dry eye. These acids also have several other health benefits. Omega-3 fatty acids can be found naturally in:
- seeds, such as flax seeds
For people with diabetes specifically, blood sugar levels should be kept within the recommended range to avoid eye damage.
If dry eye is caused by medication, doctors may prescribe an alternative medication that does not list dry eye as a side effect.
However, if dry eye symptoms are caused by a disease, doctors will attempt to treat the underlying cause.
An anti-inflammatory drug called cyclosporine is sometimes prescribed to decrease corneal damage and increase tear production.
This action reduces the symptoms of dry eye if your symptoms are not improved by using artificial tears regularly, and if the cause of your dry eyes is not producing enough tears.
Xiidra blocks the action of a molecule that scientists believe is associated with dry eye-related inflammation. However, the manufacturers note that the “exact mechanism of action of [the drug] in dry eye disease is not known.”
In severe cases of dry eye, a doctor may prescribe a short-term regimen of corticosteroid eye drops to decrease inflammation.
Punctal plugs or occlusion
A simple surgical procedure called punctal occlusion can also seal the eye’s “drainage holes.” These are the small openings at the corners of the eyelids where tears drain from the eye into the nose. By closing the drainage holes, tears will be kept on the surface of the eye for a longer period of time.
More often, doctors close the drainage holes temporarily using plugs made of silicone or collagen. These plugs are inserted into the drainage holes by an eye care professional and are not painful.
There are two main types of dry eye.
Aqueous tear-deficient dry eye
Aqueous tear-deficient dry eye is when the tear glands are unable to produce enough of the fluid component of tears to clean the surface of the eye properly.
This type of dry eye is also sometimes called “painful blindness dry eye.” It is caused by damage to the tear gland by various factors, such as aging, pollution, or side effects from some medicines. It is usually more common in women, especially after menopause.
Evaporative dry eye
The other main type of dry eye is known as evaporative dry eye. This type is caused by inflammation of another set of glands located in the eyelids, the meibomian glands.
The inflammation may cause clogging of the meibomian glands and prevents these glands from producing enough of an oil that helps stop tears from evaporating too quickly. This is more often found in men.
There are some other causes of dry eye. For instance, people who use these medicines may sometimes experience dry eye as a side effect:
- nasal decongestants
- some blood pressure medicines
- medications for Parkinson’s
- birth control pills
Diseases affecting the skin on or around the eyelids may also cause dry eye symptoms, as can some allergies. Immune system disorders such as Sjögren’s syndrome, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis may also cause dry eye.
Long-term use of contacts
People who have had LASIK eye surgery may have dry eye for 3–6 months after having the surgery.
Dry eye can occur to anyone, at any age. However, older adults seem to be particularly at risk for dry eye. An estimated
Women are known to be more at risk for dry eye when pregnant and after menopause.