What Can You Do About Dry Eyes?

How to recognize the early symptoms of dry eye disease.

Woman at home holds her eyeglasses and rubs her irritated eyes

As we age, normal tear production tends to decrease, which can lead to dry eyes. Paying attention to simple things—such as the food you eat, the medications you take, and the environment you are in—may help prevent dry eyes. But in some circumstances, dry eyes signal a condition that requires treatment by a healthcare provider.

Is your tear function interrupted?

Your body continuously produces tears to protect your eyes and help keep them comfortable. A decrease in normal tear production or an interruption in the distribution of your tears can lead to dry eyes.

A decrease in tear production may occur as a natural part of aging and is particularly common among postmenopausal women. Or it could be due to other reasons, such as allergies, dry weather, cosmetics, or contact lenses. Eyes can also feel dry when tears are not distributed well, such as when you stare at a computer screen for long hours without blinking often.

The result is eyes that burn, sting, or feel scratchy, tired, or strained. Whatever the cause of your dry eyes, there are self-care methods you can try in order to help your peepers feel comfortable and keep your vision clear.

What can you do about dry eyes?

For many people, a bit more awareness about the habits and environments that can cause problems is enough to help keep their eyes clear and comfortable. Try these strategies:

  • Make your world more humid. If your dry eyes are due to dry air, running a portable humidifier in your home may alleviate symptoms by adding moisture to dry indoor environments, especially during the winter. And wearing a wet gauze eye mask while sleeping can keep eyes moist and prevent tear evaporation. Tip: If possible, try to use lubricant eye drops before you engage in activities that are visually demanding, such as staring at a computer screen, driving, and reading.
  • Eat more eye-friendly foods. Although it's rare in developed countries, dry eyes can be caused by a lack of vitamin A. Either way, ensuring that you get the optimal amount of vitamin A can boost your overall eye health. Vitamin A-rich foods include carrots, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, pumpkin, and mango. Other nutrients that may be good for your eyes include lutein and zeaxanthin.
  • Take note of medication side effects. Certain prescription and over-the-counter medications, such as antihistamines, diuretics, sleeping pills, beta blockers, and pain relievers, can reduce your body's ability to create lubricating tears. If you experience dry eyes as a medication side effect, ask your healthcare provider about alternatives, or find out if you are a candidate for lubricant eye drops that you can use while taking your medication.
  • Wear sunglasses. Protecting your eyes when you are outdoors on bright or windy days not only shields your eyes from harsh UV light but also helps keep eyes moist by preventing tear evaporation. Wraparound sunglasses may help minimize the wind's drying effect.
  • Rest your eyes often. If you spend several hours in front of the computer, give your eyes a break now and then. Look away from the screen, focus your attention on an object that is more than 8 feet away, and concentrate on it for about 5 seconds. Repeat this exercise a few times every hour. Also, blink frequently to help evenly distribute lubricating tears.

When to see a healthcare provider

If these at-home strategies do not improve dry eyes after a few days, see your healthcare provider—especially if your dry eyes are red and painful or are accompanied by swollen, stiff, and/or painful joints, dry mouth, or discharge on your eye or eyelid. It is important to rule out underlying medical conditions that can cause dry eyes, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Sjogren's syndrome, or dry eye disease.

Medically reviewed in May 2019.

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