Dry eyes is a common condition that occurs when your tears aren’t able to provide adequate lubrication for your eyes. Tears can be inadequate for many reasons. For example, dry eyes may occur if you don’t produce enough tears or if you produce poor-quality tears.
Signs and symptoms, which usually affect both eyes, may include:
- A stinging, burning or scratchy sensation in your eyes
- Stringy mucus in or around your eyes
- Sensitivity to light
- Eye redness
- A sensation of having something in your eyes
- Difficulty wearing contact lenses
- Difficulty with nighttime driving
- Watery eyes, which is the body’s response to the irritation of dry eyes
- Blurred vision or eye fatigue
When to see a doctor
See your doctor if you’ve had prolonged signs and symptoms of dry eyes, including red, irritated, tired or painful eyes. Your doctor can take steps to determine what’s bothering your eyes or refer you to a specialist.
Dry eyes are caused by a lack of adequate tears.
For some people, the cause of dry eyes is decreased tear production. For others it’s increased tear evaporation and an imbalance in the makeup of your tears.
Factors that make it more likely that you’ll experience dry eyes include:
- Being older than 50.Dry eyes are common in people over 50.
- Being a woman. A lack of tears is more common in women, especially if they experience hormonal changes due to pregnancy, using birth control pills or menopause.
- Eating a diet that is low in vitamin A, which is found in liver, carrots and broccoli, or low in omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fish, walnuts and vegetable oils
- Wearing contact lenses
People who have dry eyes may experience these complications:
- Eye infections.
- Damage to the surface of your eyes.
- Decreased quality of life. Dry eyes can make it difficult to perform everyday activities, such as reading.
Tests and diagnosis
Tests and procedures that may be used to determine the cause of your dry eyes include:
- A comprehensive eye exam. An eye exam that includes a complete history of your overall health and your eye health can help your doctor diagnose the cause of your dry eyes.
- Measuring the volume of your tears.
- Determining the quality of your tears.
Treatments and drugs
For most people with occasional or mild dry eye symptoms, it’s enough to regularly use over-the-counter eyedrops (artificial tears). If your symptoms are persistent and more serious, you should consult with an ophthalmologist.
If you experience dry eyes, pay attention to the situations that are most likely to cause your symptoms. Then find ways to avoid those situations in order to prevent your dry eyes symptoms. For instance:
- Avoid air blowing in your eyes.
- Add moisture to the air.
- Consider wearing wraparound sunglasses or other protective eyewear.
- Take eye breaks during long tasks. If you’re reading or doing another task that requires visual concentration, take periodic eye breaks. Close your eyes for a few minutes. Or blink repeatedly for a few seconds to help spread your tears evenly over your eyes.
- Be aware of your environment.
- Position your computer screen below eye level.
- Stop smoking and avoid smoke.
- Use artificial tears regularly.