What are dry eyes?

Dry eyes (or dry eye syndrome) is a chronic, yet common, condition that occurs when the eyes don’t make enough tears – or they evaporate too quickly because they are not the right consistency. There is no cure and they can cause severe irritation and disruption to people’s lives. However the symptoms can be successfully managed with treatment.

Common dry eye symptoms

If you’re suffering with dry eyes, you’ll likely recognise some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Eye irritation in the form of a prolonged sensation of dryness, soreness or a ‘gritty’ feeling
  • Red and burning eyes
  • Episodes of blurred vision
  • Inability to cry

You may also find it difficult to open your eyes first thing in the morning and experience periods of eye watering followed by periods of extremely dry eyes. If you are suffering with dry eyes, it’s always advised to seek medical advice.

Dry eye causes

Most cases of dry eye are caused because the tears are not ‘lasting’ in the eye – either because they are evaporating away too quickly, or because the eyes are watery and the tears aren’t staying in the eye. Rarely, patients may simply not produce enough tears (aqueous tear deficiency), although this is less common. Symptoms of dry eyes can also be more noticeable if you wear contact lenses and they start to dry out also.

An eye care practitioner may be able to advise you on the cause, symptoms and type of dry eye.

Dry eyes at night

Although dry eyes are irritating in the day, at night you may find you face more irritation as they can dry out while you sleep. Making sure you use a thick lubricant, such as an ointment, may ease symptoms at night.

Home remedies for dry eyes

Although ointments and drops are the best way to ease symptoms instantly, there are certain lifestyle changes you can make to ensure your eyes are kept as moist as possible. Keeping away from cigarette smoke and out of windy areas can help to prevent them drying out – while adding a humidifier to your living environment can also help. Introducing fatty acids to your diet can also ease symptoms naturally, as they will help the eyes to produce more moisture. Omega-3 supplements are ideal for those who don’t eat enough, but you should still try to incorporate foods high in the nutrient, such as ground flaxseed and flaxseed oil, chia seeds, fatty fish, such as salmon and tuna and walnuts.

Dry eyes treatment

Although any kind of eye irritation is annoying – especially when it’s a recurring problem – dry eyes are not normally serious. If you suffer with dry eyes, there are many over the counter treatments available to help relieve the symptoms. Ask your eye care practitioner or pharmacist about eye drops, which mimic eye fluid and help to lubricate the eyes. Alternatively, you can consult a doctor about medication to reduce the eye irritation and inflammation.

Occasionally, in more serious cases, surgery may be required to prevent tears dispersing easily.

Alleviating the symptoms of dry eyes and eye irritation

Aside from the option of drops, there are a number of other measures you can take to ward off the irritation that accompanies dry eye syndrome. Offering temporary relief, artificial ‘tears’ in the form of gels, gel inserts and ointments are popular options and are a good choice for aqueous tear deficiency. 

Other things that can help include:

  • Keeping your eyes clean and away from dry and dusty environments is one of the first lines of defence against dry and irritated eyes.
  • If you work on a computer, make sure you take regular breaks.
  • If you wear contact lenses and find your eyes are dry and irritated, switching to different types of lenses, such as 1-DAY ACUVUE® MOIST, may help. Your optometrist or contact lens optician will be able to recommend the best course of action and type of lenses for you.
  • You can also use comfort drops with contact lenses and limit the amount of time you wear your lenses for per day.
  • Some sufferers say using a humidifier to moisten the air within the home is helpful in relieving symptoms.
  • Doctors recommend that patients suffering from dry eyes increase their intake of omega-3 fatty acids or flaxseed oil, and also increase their intake of water.

Your eye care professional will be able to advise which of these may be suitable for you.

If you have any concerns about the health of your eyes, please visit your local optometrist.