Psychological stress is a risk factor for dry eyes and can worsen the underlying causes of dryness. It may affect a person’s sleep quality and other physiological processes important for eye health.
Dry eye disease (DED) is a common condition that occurs when tear glands above the eyeball, called the lacrimal glands, do not secrete enough tears or do not produce the correct type of tears or tear film.
It also occurs when tears evaporate too quickly from the eyes, causing dry, burning, or gritty sensations.
This article explains how stress can cause dry eyes. It also describes other causes and symptoms of dry eyes.
Stress can affect the eyes in various ways, leading to a sensation of dryness.
Lack of sleep
People experiencing stress tend to find it difficult to fall asleep, and a lack of adequate sleep or poor sleep quality puts undue stress on the body. It may also affect the production of tears, leading to dry eyes.
In a 2019 study, researchers found that poor sleep quality may contribute to dry eyes by influencing the secretion of tears and the stability of the tear film.
Research suggests DED is common among people with:
The above mental health conditions share certain physiological mechanisms, which may explain their common co-occurrence. Some medications doctors prescribe to treat them may increase the risk of dry eyes.
Besides eye dryness, people with DED may also experience:
The major causes of dry eyes are inadequate lubrication of the eyes and an imbalance in the tear mixture.
However, the following factors may increase the likelihood of developing dry eyes:
There are different treatment options for dry eyes. Treatment will depend on factors such as the cause and the severity of the condition.
Eye drops and other medications
In most cases, lubricating eye drops, gels, and ointments
Doctors sometimes prescribe medications, such as Xiidra and cyclosporine (Restasis), to treat dry eyes.
If an underlying medical condition is the cause of a person’s dry eyes, their doctor will run some tests to diagnose their condition and prescribe medications to treat it.
Dry eye disease is often mild, and people can treat it using at-home remedies, including:
- installing humidifiers to moisten dry air
- protecting their eyes from dry wind using glasses
- taking regular breaks from looking at screens
- quitting smoking, if applicable
- reducing alcohol intake
- getting enough rest and sleep
- avoiding air blowing into their eyes
Ophthalmologists also use a lacrimal plug to reduce or slow tear loss by blocking drainage holes called tear ducts in the corners of the eyes. They may also recommend surgery to close the tear ducts permanently.
An ophthalmologist is an eye doctor qualified to handle all aspects of eye care, including treatments, the prescription of glasses, and surgery.
It can be challenging to tell if a burning eye sensation is serious or a one-off occurrence. If a person experiences symptoms of dry eyes daily or for a prolonged period, it is best to consider contacting an eye doctor right away.
People may wish to try the following to help reduce stress, where possible:
Below are answers to some commonly asked questions regarding dry eyes and stress.
Can anxiety cause dry eyes?
Yes, anxiety and other mental health conditions can induce a state of physiological stress that can affect different parts of the body, including the eyes.
Can dry eyes be psychosomatic?
Dry eyes are commonly associated with physical causes. However,
Eye dryness is a common condition that can be caused by psychological stressors. It is often not a serious problem.
However, it can lead to complications such as corneal abrasion, ulcers, and eye inflammation without treatment. A person experiencing chronic eye dryness that persists after trying home remedies will need to contact an ophthalmologist for advice.