Dry eye disease happens when your tears don’t give your eyes enough lubrication. Also called dry eye syndrome, it can result from a lack of tears or poor-quality tears that evaporate too quickly.
Without a healthy coating of tears (tear film), your eyes will feel dry and uncomfortable. Tear instability causes inflammation that damages the eye's surface, leading to problems like blurred vision.
Dry eyes are a common condition. Studies estimate that over 16 million adults in the U.S. (about 7% of the population) have dry eye disease.3 Understanding the causes and treatment options for dry eyes can help keep your eyes healthy and improve your quality of life.
11 Common Causes of Dry Eye
Many factors can disrupt a healthy tear film and cause dry eyes, including:
1. Advanced Age
Dry eyes are more common in people aged 50 or older. This is because tear production declines with age.
In women, hormonal changes that occur with menopause negatively affect tear secretion. In men, a decline in androgen levels with age can cause a decrease in tear production.
2. Being a Woman
Women are more likely than men to have insufficient tear production, especially during hormonal changes, such as:
- Using hormonal contraception
3. Environmental Factors
Sunny or windy conditions can trigger dry eyes. Other environmental irritants that can aggravate dry eye symptoms include:
- Smog (air pollution)
- Dry air
People living in dry climates are more prone to dry eye disease than in humid climates.
4. Wearing Contact Lenses
Many people who wear contact lenses suffer from dry eye disease. This is because contact lenses:
- Affect the quality of your tear film
- Restrict oxygen and tear flow
- Can trap allergens and irritants in your eye
Read about the best contacts for dry eyes.
5. Not Blinking Enough
Blinking helps your eyes distribute fresh tears. People may blink less often for many reasons, including:
- Certain medical conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease
- Activities that require concentration, like driving
- Working at a computer or looking at a digital screen for hours at a time
Most people who stare at a tablet, phone, or computer screen don’t blink frequently enough. This can cause computer vision syndrome (digital eye strain), which often involves dry eyes.
6. Certain Medications
Many types of medications can cause dry eyes, including:
- Blood pressure medication
- Allergy (antihistamine) medication
- Hormonal birth control methods
- Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
- Acne medication
- Medications that treat Parkinson’s disease
7. Eye surgery
8. Certain Medical Conditions
Medical conditions that decrease tear production and cause dry eyes include:
- Sjögren’s syndrome
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Graft vs. host disease
- Eye allergies
- Thyroid disorders
- Vitamin A deficiency
9. Posterior Blepharitis
Also called meibomian gland dysfunction, posterior blepharitis is when your eyelids are swollen or red. It’s usually caused by clogged oil glands (meibomian glands) along the eyelid margin. This condition can cause tears to evaporate faster.
10. Eyelid Problems
Eyelid problems that can cause increased tear evaporation include:
- Entropion. This is when the eyelids turn inward, causing the lashes to rub against the eyes.
- Ectropion. The eyelids turn outward, leaving the eyes exposed and prone to irritation.
11. Corneal Nerve Desensitivity
Dry eyes can be caused by corneal nerve de-sensitivity, which decreases tear production. This can result from:
- Contact lens use
- Laser eye surgery
- Nerve damage
Can Dry Eyes Cause Blurry Vision?
If you’ve wondered whether dry eyes and blurry vision are related, you’re on the right track. Dry eyes and blurry vision often occur together; both are symptoms of dry eye disease.
However, many eye and medical conditions can cause blurry vision and dry eyes. It’s important to talk to your eye doctor about changes in your eye health and vision.
Dry Eye Symptoms
Common symptoms of dry eye disease include:
- Itchy eyes
- Light sensitivity
- Feeling like something is in your eye (foreign body sensation)
- Blurred vision
- Eye pain
Types of Dry Eye
Dry eye is categorized based on the affected tear film layer:
Aqueous deficient dry eye
This is when your lacrimal glands don’t produce enough of the aqueous layer of tears. It's less common and usually affects people with underlying health conditions.
Evaporative dry eye
This occurs when you don’t have a sufficient lipid layer in your tear film, causing the aqueous layer to evaporate. It's the most common type of dry eye and occurs when the meibomian (oil) glands are clogged.
People with rosacea are prone to evaporative dry eye.
How to Treat Dry Eye
There are a variety of dry eye treatments, depending on the severity of the disease.
People with mild or occasional dry eye symptoms may find relief from lifestyle changes and home remedies, such as:
- Lubricating eye drops. Also known as artificial tears, these eye drops provide extra moisture for your eyes.
- Heat compresses. These are helpful for clogged Meibomian glands. The heat and a gentle eyelid massage help the oil glands open up.
- Omega-3 fatty acid supplements. Omega-3 supplements such as fish oil or flaxseed oil have anti-inflammatory properties, which may improve dry eye symptoms.
- Using a humidifier. Placing a humidifier in the room helps relieve symptoms due to dry air.
Depending on the cause and severity of your dry eyes, your doctor may recommend:
- Treating the underlying cause. Sometimes, treating the underlying condition that causes dry eyes can help the symptoms go away.
- Medications. Various medicines can treat dry eyes. These include corticosteroid eye drops, tear-stimulating medicines, and eye drops made from your blood (autologous blood serum drops).
- Procedures. Your eye doctor may recommend a procedure like closing your tear ducts with punctal plugs.
- Scleral contact lenses. These special contact lenses trap moisture by covering the white part of the eye.
Dry eyes are caused by a lack of tears or poor-quality tears that evaporate too quickly. Without a healthy tear film, your eyes become inflamed and damaged. This can lead to dry eye disease or dry eye syndrome.
Blurry vision and dry eyes are common symptoms of dry eye disease and often occur together. Sometimes, dry eyes and blurry vision are caused by an underlying condition, such as the autoimmune disease Sjögren’s syndrome.
Other common causes of dry eyes and blurry vision include hormonal changes, environmental factors, and side effects of eye surgery.
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