Dry Eye: Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

One of the most common complaints we hear in our office is “Why do my eyes sting and tear?” Dry eye causes a scratchy sensation or the feeling that something is in the eye. Other symptoms include stinging or burning, episodes of excess tearing that follow periods of dryness, discharge, pain, and redness in the eye. People with dry eye may also feel as if their eyelids are heavy and may experience blurred vision. 

Dry eyes can develop for many reasons, including:

  • Age. Dry eyes are a part of the natural aging process. The majority of people over age 65 experience some symptoms of dry eyes.
  • Gender. Women are more likely to develop dry eyes due to hormonal changes caused by pregnancy, the use of oral contraceptives and menopause.
  • Medications. Certain medicines, including antihistamines, decongestants, blood pressure medications and antidepressants, can reduce tear production, leading to dry eye.
  • Medical conditions. People with rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes and thyroid problems are more likely to have symptoms of dry eyes. Also, problems with inflammation of the eyelids (blepharitis), inflammation of the surfaces of the eye, or the inward or outward turning of eyelids can cause dry eyes to develop. Blepharitis can be managed by scrubbing the lid margins daily with a clean washcloth and baby shampoo.
  • Environmental conditions. Exposure to smoke, wind and dry climates can increase tear evaporation resulting in dry eye symptoms. Failure to blink regularly, such as when staring at a computer screen for long periods of time, can also contribute to drying of the eyes. Sleeping under a ceiling fan can also irritate dry eye.
  • Other factors. Long-term use of contact lenses can be a factor in the development of dry eyes. Refractive eye surgeries, such as LASIK, can decrease tear production and contribute to dry eyes.

Whatever the reason for your dry eyes, what can be done to relieve the symptoms?

  • Take a high quality fish oil supplement (omega 3 fatty acid) to reduce inflammation and improve production of the oils in the glands
  • Turn off the ceiling fan when sleeping. It’s amazing how many patients report that this totally solved their dry eye problem.
  • Try using over-the-counter artificial tears 3-4 times daily
  • If all else fails, make an appointment for a medical eye exam with one of our eye doctors

If your burning eyes are accompanied by pain or excessive light sensitivity, or if you have any eye discharge, blurred vision, eye floaters or flashes of light, double vision or other unexpected symptoms, contact your eye doctor right away for immediate attention.