Symptoms of Dry Eye

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Dry eye is one of the most common reasons that people visit the eye doctor; in fact, it is estimated that more than 16 million Americans have been diagnosed with dry eye.

Dry eye occurs due to a lack of adequate tear production or it can also occur when tears are absorbed too quickly.

Because tear production tends to diminish as you get older, dry eye is more common in people over 50 years old.

woman putting eye drops in

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Frequent Symptoms

For some people, dry eye symptoms are mild and feel like a speck of sand in the eye, or stinging or burning that doesn’t go away.

For others, dry eye can become a chronic condition that leads to blurred vision or even vision loss if it goes untreated.

Early symptoms of dry eye generally include:

  • Redness
  • Stinging
  • Burning
  • Gritty sensation

When the condition is mild, symptoms tend to come and go.

Dry Eye and Contact Lenses

Trouble wearing contacts and excessive tearing are common symptoms among those with dry eye.

Common signs and symptoms may include:

  • Symptoms that usually affect both eyes
  • Discomfort of the eyes, ranging from mild to severe
  • A stinging or burning feeling in the eyes
  • A scratchy sensation in both eyes
  • Eye redness
  • A gritty feeling
  • Redness of both eyes
  • Stringy mucous forming in or around both eyes
  • Pain is experienced when wearing contact lenses
  • Trouble seeing at night (while driving)
  • Watery eyes
  • Blurred vision (particularly when reading)
  • Pressure behind the eyes

Rare Symptoms

As dry eye worsens and becomes chronic, the symptoms become more tenacious.

Less common symptoms of dry eye may include:

  • Photophobia (increased sensitivity to light)
  • Heaviness of eyelids
  • Itchiness of eyes
  • Severe eye pain
  • Changes in vision


Usually, dry eye simply causes discomfort; but in severe instances, the condition could lead to complications such as damage to the cornea.

Dangers of Cornea Damage

When the cornea is damaged, the result could be permanent vision loss.

Dry eye symptoms may be part of a systemic disease, such as an immune system disorder called Sjögren’s syndrome, which attacks the lubricating glands in the body.

Therefore, due to the possibility of more serious conditions linked with dry eye, prompt and accurate diagnosis is very important.

Other complications of dry eye may include:

When to See a Doctor

Whenever you have symptoms such as light sensitivity, severe eye pain, or a change in vision, you should consult with your ophthalmologist or another healthcare provider as soon as possible.

If you have other prolonged symptoms—such as redness, pain, or irritation—that are not relieved by using artificial tears, it’s important to visit your eye care professional for an examination.

Your primary physician can take measures to decipher what may be going on or refer you to an eye care specialist (such as an ophthalmologist).

A Word From Verywell

Dry eye is usually a progressive condition associated with aging, but it can be a sign of a more serious underlying condition. Although there is no cure for dry eye, there are some treatment modalities—such as certain types of medications or surgery—that may help to correct the underlying problem and alleviate symptoms.

Protecting your vision is the most important consideration when it comes to having any type of eye condition, including dry eye.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Sharma A, Hindman HB. Aging: a predisposition to dry eyes. Journal of Ophthalmology. doi:10.1155/2014/781683

  3. National Eye Institute. NEI sets stage for new clinical trial to tackle dry eye.

  4. American Academy of Ophthalmology. What is dry eye?

  5. Winchester Hospital. Keratoconjunctiviits sicca.

  6. American International Medical University. Keratoconjunctivitis sicca (Dry eye syndrome): symptoms, causes, diagnosis, management, and complications.

  7. Winchester Hospital. Keratoconjunctiviits sicca.

By Sherry Christiansen
Sherry Christiansen is a medical writer with a healthcare background. She has worked in the hospital setting and collaborated on Alzheimer's research.