UC San Diego Health
menu icon
search iconSearch
Health Library Explorer
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z A-Z Listings Contact Us
Click 'Back to Intro' to return to the beginning of this section.

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).

According to the AAO and the AOA, over 3 million women and over 1 million men suffer from dry eye syndrome. This generally increases with age. Dry eye is not just an annoyance. It can cause inflammation, blurred vision, and even blindness in extreme cases.

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 worsen dry eye:

  • Diuretics (water pills)

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

  • Antihistamines

  • Some antidepressants and anti-anxiety 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, like 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.

Online Medical Reviewer: Chris Haupert MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Marianne Fraser MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 9/1/2020
© 2000-2020 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
Contact Our Health Professionals
Follow Us