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Don't Ignore Dry Eyes

You might feel a sand-like grittiness in your eyes that can range from mild to severe. People sometimes describe the feeling as a lack of lubrication. That’s exactly what it is. Your body isn't making enough tears, or the chemicals in your tears are out of balance. When this happens, you have dry eye.

Dry eye is a medical diagnosis that at times is not taken seriously, say the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) and the American Optometric Association (AOA).

Dry eye is not just an annoyance. It can cause inflammation, blurred vision, and even blindness in extreme cases. Both men and women can develop dry eye, but it is more common in women.

Risk rises with age

Changes in your immune response and falling hormone production as you age can lead to dry eye. Other possible causes include:

  • Certain diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, Sjorgren syndrome, thyroid disease, and lupus

  • Swollen or red eyelids (blepharitis)

  • Eyelids that turn inward (entropion) or outward (ectropion)

  • Wearing contacts lenses for a number of years

  • Having refractive eye surgery, such as LASIK

Here are some of the medicines that can also cause or make dry eye worse:

  • Diuretics (water pills)

  • Beta-blockers, for heart problems or high blood pressure

  • Antihistamines

  • Some antidepressants and antianxiety medicines

  • Some medicines for overactive bladder

  • Some antinausea and motion sickness medicines

  • Heartburn medicines

  • Sleeping pills

If you have dry eye symptoms and are on medicines, talk with your healthcare provider to see if changes might help.

Other causes

Some autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis can cause dry eye.

The first line of defense against dry eye is to limit or stay away things that cause symptoms. That includes dry climates. Humidity levels of about 45% or more are best for your eyes. Other factors include forced air (like from a car vent), dusty settings, smoke, and computer screens set so high that they force your eyes to open wider.

Artificial tears that you can buy over the counter can help. Look for products that are just like your own tears, not eye drops sold for allergies or redness. Ask your eye care provider to advise products that will be the best for your condition. Prescription eye drops, punctal plugs, hot compresses, and other medicines and treatments can also help. Talk with your eye care provider about these choices.

Medical Reviewers:

  • Chris Haupert MD
  • Tara Novick BSN MSN
  • Whitney Seltman MD