Why Your Eyes Are Dry & Easy Ways on How to Fix It

Excessive screen time has become the new normal. Estimates suggest that most adult Americans spend seven hours or more watching phone or laptop screens. This often leads to dryness, irritation, or dull pain in the eyes. Dry eyes, or dry eye disease, has become a common condition that affects overall quality of life. Dry eye disease can become a chronic condition if the exposure to causative factors continues or no treatment is sought. What is causing dry eyes, and what remedies will make it go away? This article will discuss dry eyes, its causes, prevention, and treatment.

Why are my eyes dry?

Dry eye disease is a common condition, affecting an estimated 75% of people over 40. It results from a lack of balance in the tear film.

The tear film has three layers: an oily layer, a watery layer, and a mucus layer. All three layers play a crucial role in maintaining the balance of the tear film. The oily layer is made by the meibomian glands of the eyelids. The watery layer is secreted by the lacrimal gland. Conjunctival cells on the eye secrete the mucus later. The anatomy of the eyelids is important since the eyelids help to spread the tear film over the eyes with every blink.

Tear film

The following factors can all contribute to dry eyes:

  • Aging. This is likely due to hormonal changes. Certain conditions can also make you more prone to dry eye disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Medications. Antihistamines, antidepressants, antihypertensives, corticosteroids, etc.
  • Environment factors. The lack of humidity in heavily air-conditioned or heated environments, windy conditions, smoke, and the use of fans can also aggravate dryness.
  • Digital devices. Looking at a screen slows down the blink rate, causing the eyes to dry out further.
  • Anatomical factors. Some people’s eyelids don’t close completely, causing their eyes to dry out during the night.
  • Lack of nutrients. A diet deficient in vitamin A can cause dryness of the eyes.

What are the symptoms of dry eyes?

Dry eyes bring on a burning, stinging, scratchy sensation. Counterintuitively, dry eyes may water excessively as a compensatory response. They may look red and irritated and be sensitive to light.

Blurry vision can accompany dry eyes as well. Some people experience a constant haze, while others experience an intermittent blur that clears with every blink.

Contact lens users may find it difficult to wear their contact lenses. Some patients report dull pain around the eyes or behind the eyes. In extreme cases of dry eyes, patients may express an inability to cry or eyelid twitching.

How to manage dry eyes with home remedies

Choose safe remedies and avoid using any remedies based on unscientific popular trends. Here are a few home remedies to manage dry eyes at home. These remedies are clinically tested and backed by extensive research.

Artificial tears

These are over-the-counter lubricating eye drops used to supplement the natural tear film. These drops act as lubricants to moisturize the eye surface. Some eyedrops also contain nutrients, such as vitamins A, E, and B6 and lipoic acid. These eyedrops reduce oxidative stress that can cause inflammation or tissue damage.

Artificial tears with electrolytes (potassium, chloride, sodium, etc.) can mimic the composition of natural tears and help in wound healing. There are many different brands out there, and most are suitable. However, avoid anything that has a 'redness reliever' in it or is designed for allergies. Talk to your local pharmacist to choose the right eye drops for you.

Warm compress

Warm compresses with gentle lid massage can help get the meibomian glands moving. Hot compresses are usually made using a clean cotton cloth. Dip the cloth in warm water (temperature around 113ºF/45ºC) and then squeeze any excess water. Now, fold the cloth and gradually apply it to the closed eyelids. Ensure that the temperature is comfortable for you and not too hot. Using a warm compress for 10 minutes twice a day for 2–3 weeks usually offers significant relief from symptoms.

Your local pharmacy may have heat packs that you can purchase specifically for this purpose. Use caution not to burn the delicate skin on the eyelids when using heat on them.

Dietary changes

Ensure your diet has adequate omega-3 fatty acids. A meta-analysis study reviewed 19 random clinical trials and concluded that omega-3 intake through diet or supplements can help in reducing symptoms associated with dry eyes and help in forming natural tears. However, these dietary changes need to be long-term, up to 12 months. Beans, walnuts, chia seeds, and fatty fish are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids.

If symptoms continue after trying these home remedies for a few days, then medical treatment is necessary. Your doctor may provide treatment to reduce the eye inflammation.

Medical treatment for dry eyes

Depending upon the underlying cause and severity of symptoms, your eye doctor may suggest various treatments. They may recommend prescription eye drops to stimulate the secretion of tears. A night ointment may be prescribed to keep tear film intact, or moisture goggles may be advised for daytime use.

In some cases, minor eye procedures are necessary. These in-office procedures take only a few minutes and do not require a hospital stay. Punctal plug is a reversible, in-office procedure. In this process, the doctor places tiny plugs in the tear ducts to prevent drainage and retain more eye moisture. Additionally, in-office procedures, such as thermal pulsation or intense pulsed light, stimulate the meibomian glands that secrete lipids necessary to maintain the tear film.

Lastly, nutritional supplements, such as vitamins A and B6 and omega-3, are beneficial as well. Talk to your doctor about vitamin and omega-3 supplementation.

Preventing your eyes from drying out

Dry eyes run a chronic course, meaning symptoms may reappear after treatment. Here are a few tips to prevent this:

  • Start by taking an inventory of your environment. Avoid fans or forced air blowing directly toward your eyes.
  • Avoid irritants, such as smoke or chemical fumes.
  • Consider using a humidifier if you live in a dry climate.
  • Take breaks when using digital devices or reduce screen time.
  • Blink frequently while enjoying screen time or reading.
  • Ask your eye doctor if any of your medications could be contributing to the problem.
  • Remember to drink plenty of water.
  • Incorporate vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids in your diet, as this can prevent dry eyes.

Risks if not treated

If not treated promptly, dry eyes can lead to severe complications. The cornea may get inflamed and develop ulcers, leading to scarring. This damage to the cornea (scarring) can ultimately result in loss of vision or blindness. Furthermore, dry eyes are also associated with various metabolic diseases, such as hypertension, diabetes, and hyperlipidemia.

Although the exact underlying mechanism is unknown, researchers hypothesize that this association between dry eyes and metabolic diseases is due to oxidative stress and accelerated aging process. Researchers have also noted an association between dry eyes and sleep disorders, mood disorders, and vascular diseases, such as migraine headaches.

Since the overall health may deteriorate, dry eyes need to be treated soon. Consult your doctor to treat dry eyes.

In a nutshell, dry eyes are a common condition that can run a chronic course. Home remedies, such as artificial tear drops or reducing screen time, can help alleviate symptoms of dry eyes. However, dry eyes can be a symptom of another disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis or eczema, which may require medical intervention. Schedule your eye check-up to treat dry eyes promptly.

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