What are dry eyes?

Tears are important for the health and comfort of your eyes. Every time you blink, a thin film of tears is swept across the surface of your eye. If you suffer from dry eyes you do not have enough tears to keep your eye comfortable. This may mean you do not produce enough tears to keep the surface of your eyes moist, or the tears do not stay on your eye long enough.

There is no cure for dry eyes, but its symptoms can be managed.

What are the symptoms?

  • Stinging/burning sensation
  • Gritty feeling (often like having sand in the eyes)
  • Light sensitivity
  • Redness
  • Itchiness
  • Fluctuations in vision that clear with blinking

People with dry eyes may also find it difficult to wear contact lenses and have discomfort in air conditioned or windy environments.

What causes dry eyes?

Dry eyes can be due to:

  • the natural ageing process
  • menopause
  • related eyelid conditions such as blepharitis – a very common inflammatory condition involving the eyelids (refer also to the blepharitis fact sheet)
  • medical conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune disorders
  • medications including oral contraceptives, antidepressants, antihistamines, diuretics and beta blockers, which are used for high blood pressure or people with heart conditions
  • a dry environment
  • irritants like smoke, dust or chemical exposure
  • extended periods of time in front of a computer screen or television (due to infrequent blinking)
  • previous laser vision correction surgery.

How can dry eyes be treated?

Dry eyes can be successfully treated, although there is no cure. The aim of treatment is to provide an adequate tear film and to stop excess loss of tears. There are a range of different options, including artificial tear drops and ointments.

Artificial tear drops are available over the counter at your local chemist. You might have to try a number of different drops until you find one that works for you. You may also need thicker lubricants, such as gels or ointments, particularly in the evenings. You may have to use the drops on a regular basis even when your eyes feel fine, to stop the symptoms from recurring.

If left untreated, damage to the front surface of the eye (the cornea) may occur.

What can I do to help?

If you have persisting symptoms despite lubricating eye drops or gels, it may be helpful to see your doctor about the side effects of any medications you take.

If you wear contact lenses, you should reduce the number of hours you wear your lenses. You may also consider changes to your environment, such as using humidifiers.

In more severe cases, a referral to an ophthalmologist may be required to consider options such as plugs that can be inserted into the tear ducts to stop the tears from draining away too quickly.

Where can I get more information?

  • Family doctor or optometrist
  • Ophthalmologist (eye specialist)
  • www.ranzco.edu
  • www.betterhealth.com.au

Disclaimer This document describes the generally accepted practice at the time of publication only. It is only a summary of clinical knowledge regarding this area. The Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital makes no warranty, express or implied, that the information contained in this document is comprehensive. They accept no responsibility for any consequence arising from inappropriate application of this information.

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  • Dry Eyes #31
  • Owner: Emergency Department
  • Last Reviewed: January 9, 2020
  • Next Review: January 9, 2023