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Causes, Symptoms, and How to Treat Dry Eyes

If your eyes are constantly irritated, red and inflamed you could be suffering from dry eyes. Find out more about this syndrome and how to treat dry eyes.

Are you constantly dealing with dry, itchy eyes? If so, you understand how frustrating the condition is.

In very severe cases, dry eyes are much more than a minor inconvenience. The problem can make working difficult and prevent you from relaxing.

Dry, sensitive eyes could also lead to other issues if not treated. And while there’s no permanent cure for this irritating condition, there are plenty of ways to minimize the symptoms.

If you suspect you have dry eyes but aren’t sure, keep reading. We’re going to cover some of the most common causes and symptoms. We’ll also go over how to treat dry eyes.

Causes of Dry Eyes

Tears are synonymous with emotion. People cry when they’re sad, happy, or frightened. However, your tears serve another biological purpose.

When your eyes are healthy, they’re coated with tear film. This film stabilizes each time you blink. That is, it’s supposed to.

When there’s a problem with this film, the result is usually dry eyes. This can result in minor vision problems. There are also external conditions that lead to dry eyes.

Let’s break down the primary causes to give you a better idea what’s going on when you experience dryness.

Decreased Tear Production

When you fail to produce an adequate amount of tears, there are gaps in the tear film covering your eye. These gaps turn into dry areas.

Insufficient tear production can occur for a number of reasons. Many people’s tear production starts to decrease after 40. This is more common in women, especially after the hormonal changes that accompany menopause.

Decreased tear production can also result from certain autoimmune diseases such as lupus. If you have diabetes, you may also suffer from lower tear production.

Imbalance in the Makeup of Tears

The tear film that keeps your eyes moist contains three components – water, oil, and mucus. If there’s an imbalance in this mixture, you’ll experience dryness.

Oil, which makes up the top layer of the film, works to smooth the surface of your eye and prevent evaporation. Without enough oil, the tear film evaporates too quickly.

Water and salt make up the middle layer of the film. This is the thickest layer and helps cleanse your eyes of foreign particles or other irritants. If you don’t have enough of this layer, the oil and mucus will combine, causing dryness along with discharge.

The last layer of mucus helps with even distribution of the tear film. An imbalance of mucus leads to areas of dryness where the film doesn’t sufficiently cover your eye.

Problems with Your Eyelid

When you blink, your eyelids help spread the tear film over the entire surface of your eye. That’s one of the reasons you blink between 15 and 20 times per minute.

Issues with your eyelid can prevent the distribution of the tear film, leading to dry eyes. One issue, called ectropion, causes the eyelid to turn outwardly. Entropion does the opposite, causing the eyelid to turn inwardly.

Inflammation of the eyelids can also cause problems with the distribution of tears.

External Causes

Some medications cause dry and sensitive eyes. These include antihistamines, antidepressants, birth control, opiates, and sleeping pills.

Frequent weather conditions in the area you live may also have an impact. More specifically, dry, arid temperatures can dry out your eyes. In addition, regions prone to windy conditions will cause more instances of dryness

Finally, if you work at a computer all day, you’re more susceptible to eye strain, which can cause dryness.

Symptoms of Dry Eyes

We know what you’re thinking – the symptom of dry eyes must be dryness. Yes, dry eyes are the primary side-effect. However, there are a number of other symptoms.

These symptoms may show up when you start to experience dry eyes or after you’ve had dryness for some time. Some symptoms can make things very uncomfortable, so see your eye doctor if you feel you need medical attention.

Itchy Eyes

One of the most common symptoms of dryness is itchiness. This occurs because there’s insufficient lubrication on the outside of your eyes.

Itchiness is also very common in dry, arid regions. This symptom may affect you more if you’re prone to seasonal allergies.

Your natural inclination is to rub your eyes when they’re itchy. Unfortunately, this can worsen the effects. We’ll discuss safer and more effective treatments later on.


Dryness is one of the most common causes of red or bloodshot eyes. Just like a rash, redness indicates irritation and sensitivity. This is bound to happen when your eyes don’t have enough lubrication.

Redness will also get worse if you rub your eyes. In addition, you may notice you’re blinking more in an attempt to create tears to moisturize the dryness. This may cause the redness to increase.

Aside from a little irritation, redness is harmless. It’s just your body’s way of responding to the dryness.

Keep in mind that other eye conditions can cause redness. If it persists, see your eye doctor for an examination. 

Sensitivity to Light

Lack of sufficient tear film means your eyes are more vulnerable than usual. One of the results is a sensitivity to light. This is also referred to as photophobia.

You’ll notice more irritation when going out in the sun. Artificial lights, especially fluorescent ones you find in offices, will also hurt your eyes.

You may notice more sensitivity to the light coming from your computer monitor or phone. This is a sign your eyes lack the protection needed to filter light.

Because digital devices are so prominent today, light sensitivity is much more common than it was in the past. Make sure you limit your exposure to artificial light as much as possible if you have dry eyes.

Irritation or Burning

In addition to vulnerability to light, dryness also means your eyes aren’t as protected from other debris as they normally would be. The result is frequent irritation or burning.

When you get a small piece of dirt or dust in your eye, your tears work to wash it away. However, if you’re lacking lubrication, the debris takes longer to remove, which leads to discomfort.

Dryness can also cause your eyelids to become slightly inflamed. A burning or soreness will accompany this.

Just like itchiness, burning and irritation get worse if you rub your eyes, so try to resist the urge.

Other Symptoms

In addition to these primary symptoms, there are a number of other signs you’re dealing with dry eyes. Some of these are minor and come and go periodically. Others are consistent and will become very frustrating if not treated.

Some of the other symptoms include:

  • A feeling of grittiness in your eyes
  • Discomfort while wearing contacts
  • A heavy feeling in your eyelids
  • Inability to focus on something without irritation
  • Trouble seeing at night
  • Suddenly having watery eyes

If any of these symptoms start to disturb your ability to function normally, it’s time to see your doctor. In addition, if pain associated with dry eyes becomes intense, you need to have an examination to ensure it’s not something more serious.

How to Get Rid of Dry Eyes

As mentioned earlier, there isn’t a surefire way to cure dry eyes forever. However, there are a number of things you can do to temporarily relieve symptoms.

Depending on the cause of dryness, some treatments will work better than others. You’ll need to find what works best for you and ask your doctor if you’re having issues finding a solution.  

Artificial Tears

The most common way to remedy dry eyes is with either drops or an ointment. You can find most of these at your local drug store.

When choosing an eye drop, make sure you look for one that lubricates. Some medicinal eye drops cause the blood vessels in your eyes to constrict.

Although this may temporarily stop redness, they can make the problem worse. Instead, use a simple lubricating drop.

Ointments also help reduce dryness and are good for use in the evening before bed.

Dietary Changes

Adding more omega-3 fatty acids to your diet is a great way to stimulate more tear production. You can get omega-3 from salmon, flaxseed, walnuts, eggs, canola oil, and soybeans.

Vitamin A is also great for your eyes. You can find this vitamin in leafy greens and peppers. Consider taking a supplement to boost vitamin A.

Other Tips

When your eyes are dry, try gently massaging your eyelids. This can help get rid of mucus buildup.

If you have to be outside a lot, invest in a pair of wraparound sunglasses. These will help keep debris out and also protect your eyes from the sun.

Finally, consider using a humidifier in your home. This will keep the air moist and reduce the risk of your eyes drying out.

Keep Dry Eyes at Bay

If you notice frequent dryness, make sure you take measures to protect your eyes. The last thing you want is a more serious issue popping up because you didn’t take care of things.

After you’ve identified the cause, use these tips on how to get rid of dry eyes and enjoy the relief you deserve.

If you’re suffering from dryness or any other type of eye condition, we can help. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.