Causes And Symptoms Of Dry Eyes And How To Cure Them

Are your eyes feeling itchy, scratchy, and uncomfortably dry? If so, you’re not alone. Millions of people around the world suffer from dry eyes.

It’s a common eye problem in which tears cannot provide adequate lubrication for the eyes.

“A dry eye condition is not just a minor inconvenience, but rather a serious medical issue that can impact a patient’s quality of life,” says Dr. Stephen Pflugfelder, Professor and Director of the Ocular Surface Center at Baylor College of Medicine.

Addressing this ocular problem is crucial for maintaining good eye health and overall quality of life.

This article explores the symptoms and causes of dry eyes and some tips for managing and treating this common condition. Read on to learn more.

What are the Symptoms of Dry Eyes? 

Physicians at the American Academy of Ophthalmology specify the common symptoms of dry eyes as follows:

  • A stinging, burning, or scratchy sensation in your eyes
  • Sensitivity to light
  • redness in the eyes
  • Blurred vision or difficulty focusing
  • Eye fatigue
  • Feeling like there is something in your eye
  • Difficulty wearing contact lenses
  • Watery eyes (as a result of excessive dryness)

What Causes Dry Eyes? 

A disruption in the healthy tear film results in dry eyes. Such a disruption can be caused for various reasons. The tear film consists of three layers: fatty oils, aqueous fluid, and mucus, which work together to keep your eyes lubricated and clear. However, if there are any issues with any of these layers, it can lead to dry eyes.

The National Eye Institute, U.S.A., states dysfunction of lacrimal glands is the main cause of dry eye syndrome.

The dysfunction of tear films occurs for reasons such as:

  • autoimmune disease
  • hormone changes
  • allergic eye disease
  • inflamed eyelid glands

A decrease in tear production can happen because of the following:


As people age, they are more likely to experience dry eyes due to a natural decline in tear production. Women, in particular, may experience dry eye symptoms during menopause due to hormonal changes.

Certain medical conditions

Allergic eye disease, Jogren’s syndrome, thyroid disorders, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, sarcoidosis, scleroderma, or vitamin A deficiency can cause low tear production.

Certain medications

Medications for Parkinson’s disease, birth control, high blood pressure, and acne can dry up tears in the long run. Similarly, medicines like antidepressants, decongestants, antihistamines, and hormone replacement therapy may reduce the production of tears.

Environmental factors

Staring at screens for extended periods can reduce the blink rate, leading to dry eyes. This is commonly referred to as digital eye strain or computer vision syndrome.

Living in areas with low humidity or windy conditions can cause tears to evaporate more quickly, contributing to dry eye symptoms.


Even dehydration can be the culprit. When the body is dehydrated, it lacks the necessary fluids to function optimally, which can affect various systems, including the production of tears. It’s crucial to drink water to prevent dehydration of the body and dryness of the eyes.

Corneal nerve desensitivity

Certain eye surgeries or nerve injuries can damage the tear-producing glands or affect the quality of tears, resulting in dry eyes. Prolonged use of contact lenses can also cause temporary dryness in the eyes.

Increased tear evaporation

Too much tear evaporation is another reason for excessive dryness in the eyes. It happens for eyelid problems, less blinking, posterior blepharitis, allergies, wind or smoke, preservatives in topical eye drops, and vitamin A deficiency.

Problems with Dry Eyes

Dry eyes can lead to a range of problems, including:

Discomfort: Dry eyes often cause discomfort, such as burning, stinging, or itching.

Eye infections: When the protective film that covers the eye is insufficient, it can increase the risk of eye infections.

Damage to the eyes: If dry eyes are left untreated, they can lead to inflammation of the cornea, the clear outer layer of the eye.

Decreased quality of life: Dry eyes can interfere with daily activities such as reading, driving, or using a computer for extended periods. Dryness in the eyes can also cause increased sensitivity to wind and light.

Vision problems: In severe cases, dry eyes can lead to blurred or distorted vision, making it difficult to perform even simple tasks.

Psychological distress: Living with chronic dry eyes can be frustrating and impact one’s mental health by increasing anxiety and depression.

dry eye

How is Dry Eye Diagnosed?

Accurate diagnosis and assessment of dry eye are crucial for determining the most effective treatment plan. Eye care professionals use various methods to diagnose conditions, including:

Comprehensive eye examination

An eye doctor will conduct an eye examination. Further, it may include reviewing the patient’s medical history. The doctor assesses their visual acuity and evaluates their overall eye health.

Standard Tests To Diagnose Dry Eyes 

Several tests can help determine the presence and severity of dry eye, such as:

Schirmer’s Test: This test measures tear production by placing a small strip of paper under the lower eyelid for a few minutes. The amount of moisture the paper absorbs reveals whether the patient has reduced tear production.

Tear breakup time test: The tear breakup time test assesses the stability of the tear film. The eye doctor will place a drop of dye in the patient’s eyes. Then he observes how long it takes for dry spots to appear on the ocular surface after the patient blinks.

Ocular surface staining: Using a special dye, the eye doctor can detect any damage to the cornea and conjunctiva caused by dry eye. The dye highlights irregularities in the ocular surface.

What are the Best Treatments for Dry Eyes Disease? 

Dry eyes can cause blurry vision in many people. It can also cause light sensitivity, irritation, discomfort, fatigue, eye fatigue, and an increased risk of infection. In general, it might affect the quality of life. Luckily, various treatment options are available for managing dry eye, ranging from lifestyle changes to prescription treatments.

Lifestyle Changes

Drinking enough water: Staying properly hydrated by drinking enough water throughout the day can help maintain the balance of the tear film and alleviate dry eye symptoms.

Taking breaks from screens: Following the 20-20-20 rule (taking a 20-second break every 20 minutes to look at something 20 feet away) can help reduce digital eye strain and alleviate dry eye symptoms.

Humidifiers: Using a humidifier to maintain optimal humidity levels indoors can help prevent tear evaporation and relieve dry eye symptoms.

Avoiding direct exposure to air vents: Position yourself away from direct airflows. Stying away from fans or air conditioning vents can minimize tear evaporation and reduce dry eye discomfort.

Wearing sunglasses outdoors: Sunglasses with wraparound frames can protect the eyes from wind, dust, and harmful UV rays. Sunglasses help maintain moisture and reduce dry eye symptoms.

Healthy diet: Eat diets rich in vitamin A, omega-3 fatty acids, gamma-linolenic acid, vitamin C, vitamin E, and zinc.
Over-the-Counter Remedies

Artificial tears: Eye drops or artificial tears can help alleviate dry eye symptoms by supplementing the natural tear film.

Lubricating ointments provide long-lasting relief from dry eye symptoms, particularly during sleep, when tear production decreases.

Prescription treatments

Anti-inflammatory eye drops: Cyclosporine or lifitegrast can reduce inflammation and increase tear production to alleviate dry eye symptoms.

Punctal plugs are small devices inserted into the tear ducts to block tear drainage, helping maintain moisture on the ocular surface.

Topical corticosteroids: In some cases, short-term use of topical corticosteroids can help reduce inflammation and relieve dry eye symptoms.

Alternative therapies

Warm compresses: Applying warm compresses to the eyes can help stimulate tear production and improve the quality of the tear film.

Omega-3 supplements: Fatty acids are abundant in some types of fish but can also be found in fish oil and flaxseed oil supplements.

Eyelid massage: Gently massaging the eyelids can help stimulate the meibomian glands, which produce the oil component of the tear film.

Dry Eyes: A Brief Overview

Frequently Asked Questions 

Can contacts cause dry eyes? 

Yes, contacts can cause both temporary and chronic dry eyes. Wearing contact lenses can reduce the amount of oxygen that reaches your eyes, which can cause dryness and irritation. Those lenses trap debris and bacteria against the eye’s surface, leading to inflammation and dryness.

Can dry eyes cause headaches?

Dry eyes and headaches can have shared triggers and co-occur. But no evidence suggests that one condition directly causes the other. When your eyes are not properly lubricated, it can lead to eye strain and discomfort. The strain in the eyes may trigger mild headaches in some people.

Why are my eyes dry when I wake up? 

While sleeping, tear production is decreased. Also, the eyelids remain closed, and the eyes don’t blink when you sleep. Sleeping in a dry environment also dehydrates your body, including your eyes. Depending on the cause, this can be treated with lubricating eye drops, sleeping masks, and ointment applied right before bed.

Can allergies cause dry eyes?

Allergies can cause dry, itchy eyes. The medications for allergies may also dry out the eyes. When you have an allergic reaction, your body releases histamine. This effect can cause inflammation and irritation in the eyes.

Can dry eyes cause floaters?

Dry eyes are typically not a direct cause of floaters. Floaters are specks or spots that appear in your field of vision. The vitreous typically undergoes aging-related changes to cause them. However, eye problems, such as infections or inflammation caused by dryness, could cause floaters.

Can dry eyes cause vitreous detachment?

Dry eyes are not a direct cause of vitreous detachment. Vitreous detachment is a common age-related condition arising from shrinking a gel-like substance (vitreous) inside the eye.

Can stress cause dry eyes?

Stress can cause or exacerbate dry eyes. When you are stressed, your body releases certain hormones that can affect the quality and quantity of tears produced by the eyes. It can also decrease the production of fluids that keep the eyes moist.

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