Dry Eye Triggers and How to Avoid Them

Avoiding triggers and preventing flares are key to successfully managing dry eye disease. Here’s what you need to know.

Dry air can aggravate dry eye symptoms and trigger flares.

Medically reviewed in February 2022

Dry eye disease (sometimes called DED) is a condition that occurs when the eyes cannot create enough tears.

Tears are necessary to keep the surface of the eyes smooth and clear and vision working well. When the eyes cannot produce tears—or tears dry up too quickly—the eyes can become dry. This can damage the eyes and cause problems with vision.

Dry eye disease can happen to anyone, but there are certain factors that put a person more at risk. The condition is more common in people over the age of 50, more common among women, more common among people who wear contact lenses, and more common after certain types of laser surgery on the eyes. It is also more prevalent among people who have inflammatory autoimmune conditions, such as lupus, Sjogren syndrome, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Sometimes, dry eye disease can be caused by medications (antihistamines, blood pressure medications, antidepressants), other health conditions (such as diabetes and thyroid disease), and environmental factors (such as living in a dry climate).

Dry eye disease can impair vision and also be a frustrating and painful condition to live with—and it’s important to get treatment.

Treatment for dry eye disease typically involves artificial tears in the form of eye drops. More severe cases may require a prescription medication that increases tear production.

Many people with dry eye disease experience dry eye flares—sudden exacerbations of symptoms—and this is another consideration for treatment. Because flare-ups are often caused by environmental triggers, it’s important to try and identify triggers so they can be avoided.

Common dry eye triggers
A trigger is anything that causes symptoms to get worse suddenly. Triggers are common in conditions such as allergies, asthma, and autoimmune diseases. While triggers can vary from person to person, some common triggers for dry eye disease include:

  • Weather (warmer temperatures, dry conditions, and wind)
  • Pollen and/or other allergens
  • Exposure to smoke and other irritants
  • Some medications such as antihistamines or diuretics
  • Too much screen time or not blinking often enough while looking at a screen
  • Wearing contact lenses
  • Vitamin A deficiency

Keeping a symptom journal can help you identify potential triggers. You may also want to take proactive steps to avoid flares and keep your eyes healthy, such as wearing wraparound sunglasses when you’re outside, limiting screen time, drinking plenty of water, getting enough sleep, and avoiding smoky areas. You can also use a humidifier inside and eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids.

Talk to your healthcare provider to discuss other ways you can identify triggers and prevent flares.

Be prepared for flares
Even when you take your medications and do your best to avoid triggers, flares can still occur. It’s important to be prepared. The first step is to talk to your healthcare provider about what to do when you experience a dry eye flare.

It’s also worth noting that the first medication specifically to treat dry eye flares became available in 2020.

Article sources open article sources

Kierstan Boyd. "What Is Dry Eye? Symptoms, Causes and Treatment." American Academy of Ophthalmology.  September 15, 2021.
Johns Hopkins University. "Dry Eye."
National Eye Institute. "Dry Eye."
Merck Manual Consumer Version. "Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca."
American Optometric Association. "Dry Eye."
Reena Mukamal. "Improved Dry Eye Drugs for 2022 and Beyond." November 4, 2021.
Cynthia Matossian. "Dry Eye Flares: An Overview." Ophthalmology Times. June 30, 2021.
Kelly K. Nichols, Marc R. Bloomenstein, et al. "Updates In Dry Eye Disease: Diagnosing and Treating Patients with Ocular Surface Disease." Modern Optometry. May 15, 2019.
Jenna Fletcher. "What to know about dry eyes due to allergies." MedicalNewsToday. August 16, 2020.
Lynda Charters. "Short-term dry eye treatment option receives FDA approval." Ophthalmology Times. December 25, 2020.

Featured Content


What Can You Do About Dry Eyes?

How to recognize the early symptoms of dry eye disease.

What Health Conditions Can Cause Dry Eye Disease?

A look at the health conditions and medications that can contribute to dry eye symptoms.

6 Contact Lens Mistakes to Avoid

Wearing contact lenses can increase your risk of dry eye disease. Here's how to keep your eyes healthy while wearing contacts.


Can Stress Make Dry Eye Disease Worse?

A look at the ways stress might contribute to dry eyes, and how dry eyes might contribute to stress.

How Do Dry Eyes Affect Women Differently Than Men?

Find out why women are more susceptible to eye dryness.