Why Are My Eyes so Dry?

An Overview of Causes, Symptoms, Prevention, and Treatment Methods

Dry eye is a condition in which tears do not properly lubricate the eye. This can lead to a painful and irritating sensation in the eye(s) and serious complications, including blurry vision and vision loss. Read on to learn why your eyes could be dry, as well as prevention and treatment methods.

Man sitting at a desk rubbing dry eyes

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What Are Dry Eyes?

Millions of Americans suffer from dry eyes. While it might seem like a simple irritation, it is a major symptom of dry eye syndrome.

Dry eye describes eyes that don’t stay lubricated for a variety of reasons. It’s important to manage dry eye, not just for your comfort, but also to avoid unwanted side effects, including vision changes or vision loss.

Prevalence of Dry Eye

Dry eye affects an estimated 16 million Americans, or about 6% of the adult population.

Causes

Dry eye can occur if your body doesn’t make enough tears, or if your tears dry up or drain too quickly. At its root, dry eye is caused by a tear system that is not working properly.

In healthy eyes, tears are produced in glands above the eye. When you blink, a tear film spreads over the eyeball, protecting the eye and keeping the eyeball moist, which helps with vision. The tears then drain into your tear ducts, found at the inner corners of your eyes. 

When something in this process goes wrong, dry eye can occur.

Risk Factors

There are a host of reasons that your tear system might not work correctly. Some common risk factors for dry eye include:

  • Being female: Hormonal changes, particularly during pregnancy and menopause, can contribute to dry eye.
  • Age: People who are older produce fewer tears. Women in their 40s and 50s are at particularly high risk for dry eye.
  • Autoimmune conditions: People with autoimmune diseases are at increased risk for Sjögren syndrome. This syndrome, which is an autoimmune disease itself, causes the body to attack fluid glands, including the glands that make tears. This can lead to dry eye. 
  • Medications: Some medications inhibit tear production, which may lead to dry eyes. This can occur with antihistamines, decongestants, and blood pressure medications.
  • Diabetes: People with diabetes can experience nerve damage to the glands that produce tears, resulting in dry eye.
  • Laser eye surgery: People who have had eye surgery may produce less tears.
  • Screen time: Looking at a screen causes you to blink less, which means your tears are not being spread properly.

Environmental factors also contribute to dry eye. If it’s very hot or windy where you are, your tears will evaporate more quickly. In addition, smoke, allergens and other irritants can dry out the eye.

Signs and Symptoms

If you have dry eyes, you’ll usually notice your eyes feeling irritated.

Other symptoms of dry eye include:

  • A scratchy, stinging, or burning sensation in the eye(s)
  • Feeling like there’s something in your eye
  • Watery eyes
  • Mucus in the eye
  • Redness
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Blurred vision

Prevention

In many cases, dry eye isn’t something you can control. However, if you suffer from dry eye, there are some measures you can take to minimize the dry, itchy feeling, including:

  • Up the humidity and hydration: Use a humidifier in your home or office, and be sure to drink at least eight glasses of water every day.
  • Reduce screen time and blink often: Spending more time away from screens can help reduce irritation. When that’s not possible, try to blink often to keep your eyes moist.
  • Protect your eyes: Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from harsh environments, including those that are windy, bright, or dry.
  • Skip the contacts: Contact lenses can make dry eyes worse, so avoid them when your eyes are irritated.
  • Increase your vitamin intake: Vitamin A, vitamin C, flax seed oil, and omega-3 fatty acids can support healthy tear production, so talk to your healthcare provider about taking a supplement with these nutrients. Too much vitamin A can be harmful, so be sure to speak to a healthcare provider before taking.
  • Sleep well: Getting the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep each night can support eye health.
  • Use a warm compress and eye massage: This can help reduce inflammation around the eye, and help the tear system function properly.

When to Seek Professional Treatment

If you consistently have dry eyes, or start experiencing any vision changes like blurriness, you should speak with your healthcare provider. They can recommend treatment for dry eyes, including:

  • Over-the-counter eye drops: Drops known as artificial tears can help keep your eyes moist.  
  • Prescription eye drops: Prescription drops like Xiidra can encourage your eyes to produce more tears.
  • Tear duct plugs: If your eyes produce enough tears but they drain too quickly, your healthcare provider can prescribe small silicone plugs for your tear ducts that will help your eyes stay moist. 
  • Surgery: In rare cases, healthcare providers will recommend surgery to reshape the lower eyelid, which will keep tears in your eyes more effectively.

Summary

Dry eye occurs when a person's eyes do not produce enough tears to lubricate them properly. Dry eyes can cause pain and irritation in the eyes and lead to vision changes or loss. Actions can be taken to prevent dry eye, and treatment options are available.

A Word From Verywell

It’s common for people to experience dry, scratchy eyes occasionally. However, if you constantly wonder why your eyes are so dry, you might have chronic dry eye. Fortunately, dry eye is very treatable with a combination of lifestyle changes and medical treatment. Remember that dry eye isn’t just an irritation; it’s an actual medical condition that can have a lasting impact on your vision if it’s not treated.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How can I hydrate my eyes?

    If your eyes are irritated, try using an artificial tear product without additives or preservatives. You should also avoid contact lenses and minimize screen time.

  • How do I know if I have chronic or temporary dry eyes?

    Many people experience dry eyes occasionally. However, if you frequently have dry, itchy eyes, you might have chronic dry eye. You should talk to your healthcare provider about options like eye drops or supplements that can help control your symptoms. 

  • How long will it take for dry eye symptoms to go away?

    If you have irritated eyes, you might experience relief soon after you use artificial tears. However, it can take much longer to address the causes of dry eye. If you have dry eyes often, talk to your healthcare provider about preventative measures and treatments, which might include taking supplements or using prescription eye drops.

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3 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.
  1. National Eye Institute. Dry eye.

  2. National Eye Institute. Causes of dry eye.

  3. American Optometric Association. Dry eye.