How to Care for Dry Eyes

How to Care for Dry Eyes

Why this irritating eye problem needs attention before it affects your vision.

Let's face it—dry eyes don't feel good. Sometimes they can feel scratchy or gritty, like something's caught in your eye. Other times you may feel a stinging or burning sensation coupled with red eyes, blurry vision and uncontrollable tears. It's a painful and frustrating condition that can eventually impair your vision. But with the right treatment, you can ease dry eye symptoms and put your eye health back on your side.

What Exactly Are Dry Eyes?
Blink. Now blink again. If your eyes are healthy, you probably didn't notice anything. But each time you blink, tears should automatically lubricate the surface of your eyes with a combo of oil, water and mucus. This defense mechanism keeps your eye surfaces smooth and clear while washing away any junk that gets in there, including stuff that could lead to an infection.

But if that process of tear production and drainage is out of whack, you could end up with dry eye syndrome. People with this problem usually don't produce enough tears when they blink, or the tears lack enough water to keep eyes nice and moist. And when there aren't enough good tears, your eyes can't function at their peak.

What Causes Dry Eyes?
The most common reason people have dry eyes is—you guessed it—aging. Your body may simply stop producing an abundance of tears in your golden years. For women, other hormonal changes during pregnancy and after menopause can also play a role.

Environment: Don't be surprised if you have dry eyes after hours of staring at a computer screen or reading in an air-conditioned room. Also, smoky, dry, windy and polluted outdoor areas can put a stranglehold on your tear production.

Medication: Some drugs have a subtle side effect of slowing down tear production. Cold and allergy medications are obvious ones, but blood pressure medications and antidepressants are also common culprits.

Other health problems: People who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes and thyroid issues are more likely to have dry eye symptoms.

Other eye problems: If you've worn contact lenses for a long time or if you've had eye surgery, such as LASIK, your tear production could decline.

How Are Dry Eyes Treated?
Relieving mild dry eye symptoms can be as easy as heading to your local grocery store or pharmacy and buying over-the-counter eye drops, also known as artificial tears. They're a quick way to temporarily moisturize your eyes. Just be careful about using them more than four times a day. Be sure to avoid things that irritate your eyes when possible.

If your dry eye symptoms are really bothersome, it's a good idea to see your eye doctor and talk about other options. Your doctor may prescribe medicated eye drops and suggest dietary supplements, like omega-3 fatty acids. Sometimes surgery can help, but only your doctor will know if that's right for you.

Medically reviewed in July 2018.

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