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Dry eye disease

4-minute read

Key facts

  • Dry eyes can occur when your tears don’t properly lubricate your eyes, making them sore and gritty and your vision blurry.
  • Your tears are made up of three layers: fatty oils, watery tears and mucus. If you have a problem with one of these three layers you may develop dry eye disease.
  • There are things you can do at home to provide relief, but sometimes you will need to see a doctor for treatment.

What is dry eye disease?

Dry eye disease (also known as dry eye syndrome) is a common condition that can affect your quality of life. Dry eyes can make your eyes feel sore and gritty and make your vision blurry. If you have dry eye disease, your eyes my feel sensitive to light, they may sting or burn, or look red. Your eyelids may be sticky when you wake up. Sometimes dry eye disease can cause excess tearing. You might also have blepharitis (inflamed eyelids). You may feel a sensation of something in your eye and you may have difficulty wearing contact lenses.

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

What causes dry eye disease?

Your tear film is made up of 3 layers: fatty oils, watery tears and mucus. When your tears are working normally these 3 components keep your eyes smoothly lubricated. If you have a problem with 1 of these 3 layers you may develop dry eye disease.

You can develop dry eyes if your tear glands don’t produce enough watery tears. This can be linked to rheumatological diseases, particularly Sjogren’s syndrome in some people.

You can also develop dry eyes if there are problems with the glands above your eyes called “meibomian glands”. These glands make the oily tear film layer that stops tears from evaporating. If these glands aren’t functioning normally, your tears may evaporate too fast, drying out your eyes. This can happen if you have a skin disorder such as rosacea, which can cause the glands to block.

Your dry eyes may also be caused by a combination of these problems.

Who is at risk for developing dry eye disease?

You are at increased risk of dry eyes if you:

What should I do about dry eye disease?

See your doctor or optometrist if you have ongoing dry eye symptoms. They may give you medicine to treat inflammation if you need it, and talk to you about other medicines you are taking that may be making your eyes dry.

Here are some things you can do to manage symptoms of dry eye disease:

  • Use an over-the-counter treatment such as artificial tears, gels or ointments — see your pharmacist for advice.
  • Protect your eyes. Wrap-around glasses can help you avoid direct contact with wind, hot air, direct sunlight and smoke, which can irritate your eyes.
  • Avoid straining your eyes. If you work at a computer screen, make sure your eyes are positioned correctly — you may need to raise your screen so it’s in line with your eyes. Take regular screen breaks to avoid straining your eye muscles.
  • Using a humidifier at home and at work may stop the air around you from becoming dry.
  • Try a warm compress on your eyelids. This may provide some relief.
  • If you smoke, cut down or quit. Try to avoid second-hand or passive smoking.

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Last reviewed: May 2022

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