Dry eye is a medical condition in which the eyes do not produce enough tears to lubricate the eyes properly. The symptoms are typically mild and include irritation and sensitivity to light. However, dry eye can lead to more serious complications if a person does not get treatment.

In extreme cases, dry eye may damage the eyes or cause an infection. These complications can cause partial vision loss or blindness if they occur.

Keep reading to learn more about the effects of dry eye on vision.

Mild to moderate cases of dry eye will not likely cause permanent damage or infection that will lead to blindness, especially when a person receives treatment.

More severe cases of dry eye can cause damage to the outer, clear layer of the eye known as the cornea. When damage occurs there, it can lead to impaired vision.

Corneal damage can cause blurry or cloudy vision, and it can also lead to blindness. Corneal damage is a leading cause of blindness globally, most commonly in low or middle income countries.

What are the long-term effects of dry eye?

Dry eye can lead to various health complications. These include:

  • a decreased ability to perform daily tasks, such as driving and reading
  • damage to the eyes, including corneal scratches and ulcers, which can lead to scars on the cornea
  • an increased risk of infection

Certain infections can lead to vision complications, including blurry vision and vision loss.

Can dry eye cause permanent damage?

Dry eye can cause permanent damage if the cornea gets scratched. Minor scratches will likely heal, but if scars form, they can cause long lasting vision problems.

When damage occurs to the cornea, a doctor may recommend various treatments. The options may include:

  • eye patches
  • ointments or drops
  • special contact lenses
  • anti-inflammatory eye drops
  • antibiotics
  • autologous serum tears

If these treatments prove ineffective, the doctor might recommend a corneal transplant to help restore clear vision. During this procedure, a surgeon removes all or part of the damaged cornea and replaces it with donor tissue. Most corneal transplants are successful initially, but some may fail due to the immune system attacking the implant.

Dry eye can cause anything from mild vision impairment to blindness.

Dry eye often causes symptoms such as sensitivity to light, increased tear production, and blurry vision. With treatment, these symptoms should go away.

More severe or untreated cases of dry eye can lead to permanent vision loss, including blindness.

A person should talk with an eye doctor if they experience symptoms of dry eye so they can undergo treatment for the condition and minimize the risk of complications.

Dry eye can be temporary and last for a few hours to months, or it may be permanent.

Temporary dry eye typically has an acute cause, such as exposure to allergens or staring at a screen for too long.

Chronic dry eye occurs when the condition and symptoms last for days, weeks, or months.

In either case, a person should seek treatment for dry eye and any underlying condition that may be causing it.

A doctor can often help a person treat dry eye and avoid complications. If the symptoms persist, even with treatment, a person should let the doctor know. The doctor can likely suggest other treatment options to address the condition.

Nearly everyone will experience bouts of infrequent dry eye. The possible causes of acute dry eye include:

  • staring at a computer, TV, tablet, or smartphone screen for extended periods
  • dry air
  • changes in the weather
  • allergies
  • pollutants

When a person experiences an acute case of dry eye, they will typically find relief when they eliminate or treat the trigger. For example, a person who experiences dry eye due to allergens may find that over-the-counter (OTC) allergy medications provide relief. A person staring at a computer for work may notice that their symptoms improve once they start taking regular screen breaks.

Chronic dry eye can occur for several reasons. The possible causes include:

  • underlying medical conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, or Sjögren’s disease
  • the use of certain medications, such as blood pressure medications or antidepressants
  • complications from surgery or long-term contact use
  • aging, as dry eye tends to occur more frequently as a person ages
  • sex, as dry eye is more common in females due to the hormonal changes that result from pregnancy, birth control pills, and menopause

Addressing underlying health conditions or changing medications may help prevent dry eye from occurring. A person will likely need continued treatment for dry eye to help prevent complications.

In some cases, it may be possible to relieve dry eye by addressing the underlying cause. This may require ongoing treatment for an underlying condition, such as rheumatoid arthritis or diabetes.

Ongoing treatment may also be necessary for dry eye. Some treatment options include:

  • lifestyle adjustments, such as avoiding smoke, using a humidifier, getting regular sleep, limiting screen time, wearing contacts less frequently, and staying hydrated
  • OTC eye drops, such as artificial tears
  • tear duct plugs to prevent tears from draining too quickly
  • prescription eye drops to help produce more tears
  • eyelid surgery if dry eye is due to eyelid problems, such as ectropion, a condition in which the eyelids turn outward

Dry eye can lead to vision loss and even blindness if it goes untreated. A person should speak with a doctor if they experience ongoing symptoms of dry eye. Doctors can recommend medications, suggest lifestyle adjustments, and treat any underlying causes.

Treatment can help prevent worsening symptoms and complications, such as vision loss.