Dry eyes occur when a person’s tears do not properly lubricate the surface of their eyes. Reasons for dry eyes in summer can include an increase in exposure to sunlight, an increase in pollen, or dehydration.

According to the National Eye Institute (NEI), dry eye is common, affecting over 16 million Americans. Dry eyes can cause a burning sensation in a person’s eyes. The eyes may also feel dry and scratchy or as if there is grit or sand on their surface.

Some things that can contribute to dry eyes are more common in summer. This includes factors such as dry, hot air and the use of air conditioning, which can cause tears to evaporate quickly.

Additionally, if a person is outside more in the summer, certain allergens, such as pollen and dust, can also irritate their eyes and cause them to become dry.

This article will explain why eyes may feel drier in summer, as well as symptoms, treatment, and prevention.

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Eyes are usually covered in a layer of tears, called a tear film, that helps protect them from the environment. The tear film lubricates the surface of the eye and helps wash away things such as dust, bacteria, and pollen.

A person’s eyes can become dry when their eyes do not produce enough tears or if the tears evaporate too quickly.

There are a number of reasons why eyes may become drier in the summer. People may spend more time outside in the summer, and certain environmental factors can affect the moisture levels in their eyes.

Factors that can affect this include:

  • The sun: The sun’s rays can cause a person’s tears to evaporate more quickly. If their eyes cannot produce tears quickly enough to replace the evaporated moisture, they will become dry.
  • Windy environments: The wind blowing in a person’s eyes can also cause them to become dry before they can replenish the moisture. The same effect occurs when bicycling without protective eyewear.
  • Allergies: Things such as pollen and dust can irritate a person’s eyes, causing them to become dry. Certain medications used for allergies, such as antihistamines, can also cause dry eyes as a side effect.
  • Some activities: Chlorine from swimming pools or smoke from campfires can also irritate and dry a person’s eyes.
  • A lack of humidity: In the summer months, air may be more likely to be dry and contain less moisture, meaning a person’s eyes will need to produce more tears to compensate.

Studies have shown that indoor environments can also affect the level of moisture in a person’s eyes. Factors that contribute to this include:

  • Air conditioning: Air conditioners can reduce the humidity of rooms, leading to drier eyes. Additionally, if the air points toward a person’s face, such as with some car air conditioners, a person’s tears are likely to evaporate before blinking can replenish the moisture.
  • Temperature changes: Changes in humidity and temperature as a person walks between air-conditioned and non-air-conditioned rooms can also cause their eyes to become dry.

Learn more about dry eyes.

Dry eyes can result in a variety of symptoms, including:

  • eye discomfort, such as a burning or stinging sensation on the surface
  • feeling as if there is grit in the eye
  • discomfort when wearing contact lenses
  • redness in the eyes
  • blurred vision
  • double vision
  • sensitivity to light, wind, or smoke
  • eye fatigue when reading

Dry eyes can also become watery as the tear ducts try to compensate for the dryness on the surface of the eyes.

The NEI notes that some other causes of dry eyes include:

If a person has an elevated chance of developing dry eyes due to these risk factors, they may wish to speak with a doctor and take precautions during the summer months to help reduce their risk.

If a person’s eyes feel dry, scratchy, or uncomfortable, they should visit their eye doctor. An eye doctor will ask the person about their symptoms and examine the surface of the eye. They may also perform some tests, such as a Schirmer’s test to see whether the person is making enough tears.

The most common treatment for dry eyes is to replace the evaporated tears with artificial tears.

In many cases, a person may be able to manage their symptoms with artificial tears in the form of over-the-counter (OTC) eye drops.

Individuals with chronic dry eyes may wish to avoid wearing contact lenses. Those with occasional dry eye symptoms may consider contact lens rewetting drops for short-term relief.

If OTC medications do not help, a doctor may prescribe eye drops containing cyclosporine (Restasis) or lifitegrast (Xiidra) to help the eyes produce more tears.

A doctor may recommend certain lifestyle changes to help reduce a person’s chance of getting dry eyes in the summer.

Such changes may include:

  • using a humidifier indoors to stop the air from becoming too dry
  • using HEPA filters to remove airborne particles such as pollen and dust
  • wearing wraparound sunglasses when outdoors to protect their eyes from the sun’s rays and from allergens such as pollen or dust
  • drinking water to remain hydrated
  • getting 7–8 hours of sleep each night to help keep the eyes healthy
  • limiting screen time, to give the eyes a break
  • stopping smoking
  • ensuring adequate consumption of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D, as these may help decrease symptoms of dry eyes

If a person’s dry eyes are a side effect of another medication, they should speak with their doctor before deciding to change that medication.

Learn more about home remedies for dry eyes.

Dry eyes occur when a person’s eye cannot produce enough tears to keep the surface of the eye moist and lubricated. There are various reasons why this might affect a person in the summer, including dry air, wind, heat, and airborne allergens.

OTC or prescription medications can help symptoms of dry eyes, and a person can make certain lifestyle changes in the summer to help reduce the discomfort and irritation of dry eyes.