Dryness occurs when your eyes produce limited amounts of natural tears or when your tears can’t correctly lubricate the surface of your eye. This can cause an uncomfortable, scratchy sensation and may even affect visual acuity.

Dry eye is common — it affects 16 million Americans every year. The good news is that if you have dry eye, there are lots of things you can do to keep your eyes healthy and stay comfortable.

man with eye pain in an office

Symptoms

  • A scratchy feeling, like there’s something in your eye
  • Stinging or burning feelings in your eye
  • Red eyes
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Blurry vision

 

Risk Factors

  • Are age 50 or older
  • Are female
  • Wear contact lenses
  • Don’t get enough vitamin A or omega-3 fatty acids
  • Have certain autoimmune conditions, like lupus or Sjögren syndrome

Causes

Normally, glands above your eyes make tears that keep your eyes lubricated Dry eye happens when:

  • Your glands don’t make enough tears
  • Your tears dry up too fast

 

Diagnosis

Your doctor can check for dry eye as part of a comprehensive dilated eye exam. The exam is simple and painless — your doctor will give you some eye drops to dilate (widen) your pupil and then check your eyes for dry eye and other eye problems.  In some instances, your doctor might get diagnostic testing called corneal topography to assess the state of your corneal dryness.

two women drinking coffee

Treatment

Treatment for dry eye usually depends on what’s causing your symptoms. There are a few different types of treatment that can ease your symptoms and help keep your eyes healthy.

 

Over-the-counter eye drops

The most common treatment for mild dry eye is a type of eye drops called artificial tears. You can get these eye drops without a prescription. There are also over-the-counter moisturizing gels and ointments that may help your eyes feel better.

 

Prescription medicines

If your dry eye is more serious, your eye doctor may give you a prescription for medicines that can help your eyes make more tears.

 

Tear duct plugs

If tears are draining too quickly from your eyes, your doctor may suggest putting special plugs (called punctal plugs) in your tear ducts These plugs can help keep your tears in your eyes.

 

Surgery

In some cases, dry eye can happen because your lower eyelids are too loose, causing tears to drain too quickly from your eye. If this is the case, your eye doctor may suggest surgery to fix your eyelids and help your tears stay on your eyes.