Why Are My Eyes Dry?

Your eyes are arguably the most important sense organs you have. They provide you with information about the world around you and keep you from bumping into things! Therefore when something feels less than 100%, you might find yourself concerned or worried about what’s going on.

Why do my eyes feel odd when dry?

Being vitally important to your day to day life, your eyes have adapted to maintain themselves with a layer of tears (from your tear ducts) to protect them. The purpose of tears is not to embarrass you when you feel sad! but rather to clean the eye, keeping it free from infection and dust. This film of liquid also lubricates your eye for easy motion around the eye socket in which it is housed, and also against any friction with your eyelid.

The layer of tears (called a tear film) over your eyes is actually composed of an inner, middle, and outer layer. These are composed of mucus, water, and oil (lipids) respectively, so technically it isn’t just a layer of tears. The middle water layer is  the only part that actually is made up of tears, and these are secreted from a small gland above the eye called the tear or Lachrymal gland. The oil and mucus layers are provided by other glands around the eye.

Why are my eyes dry?

Your eyes become dry when there is a problem with the moisturising and protective layer of tears that normally envelops them. Dry eye syndrome (called keratoconjunctivitis sicca) can happen at any age, but the likelihood of its incidence increases as you get older. The condition particularly affects women as they go through their menopause.

The causes of dry eyes vary from person to person, but typically include:

  • Age – You produce fewer tears with age, and as mentioned above, this is particularly true of women who reach the age of menopause.
  • Drugs – Some medications can dry your eyes or exacerbate any existing dryness. If this can happen your medication should mention it in the ‘side effects’ section of the included label. Common meds that cause dry eyes include some antidepressants, antihistamines (drugs used to treat allergic reactions), the contraceptive pill (which causes hormonal changes that can lead to eye dryness), some eye drops, and finally diuretics (a tablet which increases water output from the body through urine).
  • Disease – Dryness of the eyes can be part of the presentation of a number of illnesses like rheumatoid arthritis. If it is a symptom, then it won’t stand in isolation and often be accompanied by other signs of illness, e.g. rheumatoid arthritis is typified by joint pain.
  • Environmental conditions – changes in humidity (due to air conditioning for example) or very windy conditions can dry out your eyes.
  • Low blink rate – blinking less than usual, normally a consequence of staring at a screen for too long, can lead to dryness in the eyes.

Do I have dry eyes?

The usual symptoms of dry eyes are a gritty sensation that some people experience, others describe it as a burning of the eyes that can be quite unpleasant. If your eyes are just dry then there usually is no redness despite the irritation, and if you do notice any kind of redness then you should consult your optician or GP straight away as it is likely to be an infection. Dry eyes don’t have any effect on the actual functioning parts of your eyes, but you may experience blurry vision accompanied with the aforementioned irritation. Fortunately this is temporary and just a consequence of your eyes working without their usual tear film. Less common but still reported are photosensitivity (a sensitivity to bright lights) and an odd sensation of discomfort upon wearing contact lenses (as these rest on the tear film).

How do I treat my dry eyes?

If you’re having trouble with dry eyes you should always take the matter to either your GP or optician, just to be on the safe side. After all you only get the one pair of eyes, and it never hurts to have a professional take a quick look. Most of the time the solution is simply to apply some eye drops or gels that lubricate the eye and hence restore it to its natural state. You may need to apply these drops quite regularly to begin with (every hour or less, depending on how you respond to the drops), but usually you will need them less and less often as your eyes recover. Some opticians/GPs may suggest an ointment which is applied to your eyes before sleep and left to work overnight. These can be used in conjunction with eye drops during the day.

« How Often Should I Visit the Optician? Why Are My Eyes Sore? »