Why Are My Eyes So Dry?

Do your eyes feel sensitive or sticky no matter how obsessively you blink? According to University Hospitals, about 3.2 million women and 1.68 million men over the age of 50 are affected by dry eyes. 

Dry eye is a common condition and part of the natural aging process. In fact, over 75% of people over the age of 65 may experience dry eye syndrome at some point.

You shouldn’t neglect your ocular health. Knowing the symptoms and causes of dry eyes is important to effectively treat it. Keep reading to learn more!

See Related: Optician Vs. Optometrist Vs. Ophthalmologist: What's The Difference?

Dry Eyes Symptoms

Dry eye occurs when your tears can't provide adequate lubrication to your eyes. Lacking or having low-quality tears can lead to inflammation and irritation, which is often pretty uncomfortable. 

These are the most common dry eye symptoms:

  • Eye fatigue
  • Blurred vision
  • Watery eyes (an overcompensating response to dry eyes)
  • Difficulty with nighttime driving
  • Stinging, burning, or gritty feeling
  • Mucus in or around the eyes
  • Irritation from contact lens use
  • Eye redness
  • Light sensitivity
  • Feeling as if something is in the eyes

If you have any of these symptoms, your healthcare provider or eye doctor can recommend personalized next steps to help provide relief. Dry eyes can put a pause on your day-to-day routine, which is why it’s so important to maintain excellent ocular health. 

Causes of Dry Eyes

A healthy tear film has three layers: fatty oils, a watery layer of aqueous fluid, and mucus. Issues with the tear film can lead to dryness, irritation, or inflammation in the eye. However, that's not the only reason why dry eyes may occur.

Changes in Tear Evaporation

Sometimes, the oil film in your eyelids becomes clogged. Your body usually responds by increasing tear production, which can lead to increased tear evaporation. Individuals who experience skin conditions such as rosacea are more likely to experience changes in tear evaporation.

Other times, your tear ducts aren't able to produce enough tears. This often comes with age but can also happen to individuals taking certain medications. Fluctuating hormonal changes in women after menopause, during pregnancy, or while taking birth control pills can also cause tear instability.

When people experience either increased tear evaporation or decreased tear production, it can be due to the following:

  • Vitamin A deficiency
  • Inflammation
  • Wind or dry air
  • Smoke
  • Eye allergies
  • Eyelid problems such as the lids turning inwards (entropion) or outwards (ectropion)
  • Decrease in blinking
  • Medical conditions or eye diseases like Sjogren's syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, or diabetes

If you are experiencing changes in tear production, consult your healthcare provider or optometrist for recommended treatments.

Can Dry Eyes Affect Your Vision?

Over time, prolonged dry eyes can cause blurred or fluctuating vision. Lacking tears or low-quality tears can also negatively affect eyesight.

At night, dry eyes can also cause you to see glares or halos around lights. This could affect your driving. While it’s not permanent, the ongoing pain and discomfort could cause interruptions in your daily life. 

Should You Worry About Having Dry Eyes?

If you don’t seek out treatment quickly, you may experience potential complications down the line. Your local optometrist can help identify the source of your dry eyes and provide you with proper treatment. 

Eye Infections: Without a normal amount of tear production, you could have an increased risk for eye infection because the eye’s surface is less protected.

Damage to the Surface of the Eye: When left untreated, eyes can become more inflamed, and there could be a scrape on the corneal surface, corneal ulcers, or even vision loss.

Complications Focusing: This can include actions such as reading or watching television.

Can Dry Eyes Fix Themselves? 

Unfortunately, chronic dry eyes won’t usually heal by themselves. However, several methods can help relieve ongoing symptoms.

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Bonus: Why Does My Eye Hurt? Common Causes, Treatments, & More

Take Preventative Measures

Even if you have crystal-clear vision, you should still prioritize your ocular health. Annual eye exams are about more than picking out a new pair of luxury frames - your optometrist will check you for signs of eye disease and other conditions that might be flying under the radar. 

A few of the following methods can help prevent symptoms of dry eye from worsening:

Take Breaks During Long Tasks: Anything that requires prolonged concentration, such as reading or working on the computer, can put a strain on your eyes. Set aside adequate time to rest your eyes. Try closing them for a few minutes or actively blinking to help spread tears evenly across the eyes.

Make Screens Eye Level: When a computer screen is positioned above eye level, it can cause your eyes to open wider and feel strained. Make sure your computer screen is always at eye level to reduce eye strain.

Add Moisture to the Air: If your environment is naturally dry, adding additional moisturize to the atmosphere can help them from drying out fast. A device such as a humidifier would be an excellent fix for a dry room.

Avoid Artificial Air: From hair dryers to air conditioners, extra air contact with your eyes can cause them to dry out more quickly.

Avoid Cigarette Smoke: Whether you smoke or are in an environment with second-hand smoke, both can cause extra eye irritation and worsen the symptoms of dry eyes. 

Treatments for Dry Eyes 

While there is no permanent fix for dry eyes, several treatments are available to help reduce symptoms—many of which may need to be prescribed by a doctor or optometrist.

Artificial Tears: One of the most common treatments, artificial tears, are available over the counter. Note that it’s best to use these eye drops even when your eyes feel fine to help prolong the moisture.

Lipiflow: This is a medical treatment used to heat up and unclog blocked tear glands in the eyelids. This helps keep the eyes moist and reduces tear evaporation.

Cyclosporine: Cyclosporine is a prescription used to help your tear glands produce enough tears.

You Can Moisten Your Eyes Naturally

Although there are several artificial methods available, there are also plenty of natural alternatives that can help moisten your eyes and relieve existing symptoms.

Blink More: While this may seem like a no brainer, actively taking breaks to blink more will help to generate more tears. Utilize the 20/20 rule by closing your eyes every 20 minutes for 20 seconds to help provide relief.

Follow the “20-20-20” Rule: Take regular breaks using the “20-20-20” rule. Every 20 minutes, shift your eyes to look at an object at least 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds.

Wash Your Lashes: Buildup from oils and makeup can clog up the eye area, causing dryness. Use a gentle eyelid cleanser to wash the area and reduce clogging. Avoid using soap on your eyelids or eyelashes.

Apply a Warm Compress: Warm compresses help to reduce clogged ducts and naturally provide relief to the eye area. The warmth will help loosen any areas that may be filled with natural oils. We recommend using a microwaveable moist heat mask, like the BRUDER Moist Heat Eye Compress or OPTASE Moist Heat Mask. Consistent heat is far more effective for relieving dry eyes. 

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Certain Foods Can Help With Dry Eyes

While you may not be able to fully eliminate dry eyes, there are quite a few foods that will help relieve the discomfort based on the nutrients each one of them provides:

Fish: Fish are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which help visual development and retina function. They can also reduce inflammation in the eyes. Fatty fish also contain vitamin D, a nutrient that can aid tear production.

Sweet Potato: Rich with vitamin A, sweet potato can help increase tear production and reduce overall dry eye symptoms.

Carrots: Not only are they great for providing you with great eyesight, but carrots are also a great source of vitamin A.

Avocados: Abundant with magnesium, B6, vitamin C, vitamin E, folate, and potassium, each ingredient supports tear quality and eye moisture. Avocados are also supplied with anti-inflammatory ingredients that help with brain and heart health.

Eggs: Eggs are an excellent source of antioxidants that can help prevent several eye problems, including dry eyes, cataracts, and UV damage.

Citrus Fruits: Various citrus fruits like oranges, grapefruit, and lemon contain vitamin C, which is great for preventing eye disease and promoting better tear production.

Broccoli: Considered to be one of the top vegetables to exist, broccoli has antioxidants, vitamin C, and vitamin E to keep eyes nice and healthy.

Spinach: Known to contain lutein and zeaxanthin, the nutrients in spinach go to work to reduce several dry eye symptoms. 

Caffeine: While this may seem like an unlikely choice because caffeine can dehydrate the body, caffeine can help stimulate tear production.

Nuts: Consisting of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E, nuts like Brazil nuts, cashews, and walnuts can help prevent the breakdown of healthy eye tissue.

Squash: Summer squash is rich in vitamin C and zinc, while Winter squash is a better source of vitamin A, vitamin C, and omega-3 fatty acids.

Seeds: Chia seeds, flax seeds, and hemp seeds are high in omega-3 and vitamin E, which can help reduce symptoms of dry eyes.    

Foods to Avoid With Dry Eyes 

There are plenty of foods to avoid having in your diet if you're experiencing dry eyes. Try to cut out the following from your daily diet:

  • Alcoholic beverages
  • High-sodium snacks
  • High-sugar foods

Each of these food types has the potential to decrease tear production due to their higher concentrations of glucose and dehydrating elements.

Final Thoughts

Dry eyes affect millions worldwide, with symptoms that include eye fatigue, blurred vision, watery eyes, and irritation.

Preventative measures and ongoing treatments can drastically relieve any pain or discomfort you might have. As a general rule of thumb, it’s always best practice to speak with your optometrist if you’re experiencing symptoms of dry eye or any other ocular discomfort.

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Oculus Eyecare is Seattle’s premier optometry practice and optical boutique for those looking to see and be seen in a new way. Located in South Lake Union on Denny Way, Oculus Eyecare offers comprehensive eye care services and exams for individuals and families in Seattle. Click here to schedule an appointment or a personal styling session. To stay connected and learn more, follow us on FacebookInstagram, and X/Twitter.


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