Dry eyes occur when your tears aren't able to provide adequate moisture for your eyes. Tears can be inadequate for many reasons. For example, dry eyes may occur if you don't produce enough tears or if you produce poor-quality tears.
Dry eyes feel uncomfortable. If you have dry eyes, your eyes may sting or burn. You may experience dry eyes in certain situations, such as on an airplane, in an air-conditioned room or after looking at a computer screen for a few hours.
Dry eyes treatments may make you more comfortable. Dry eyes treatments can include lifestyle changes and eyedrops. For more serious cases of dry eyes, surgery may be an option.
Signs and symptoms of dry eyes, which usually affect both eyes, may include:
When to see a doctor
Dry eyes are caused by a lack of adequate tears. Your tears are a complex mixture of water, fatty oils, proteins and electrolytes. This mixture helps make the surface of your eyes smooth and clear, and it helps protect your eyes from infection.
For some people, the cause of dry eyes is an imbalance in the composition of their tears. Other people don't produce enough tears to keep their eyes comfortably lubricated. Eyelid problems, medications and other causes, such as environmental factors, also can lead to dry eyes.
Poor tear quality
Decreased tear production
You may not produce enough tears if you:
Medications that cause dry eyes
Other dry eyes causes
Tear glands and tear ducts
The tear glands (lacrimal glands), located above each eyeball, continuously supply tear fluid that's wiped across the surface of your eye each time you blink your eyelids. Excess fluid drains through ...
Factors that make it more likely that you'll experience dry eyes include:
Most people don't experience complications caused by dry eyes. Complications that can occur include:
Preparing for your appointment
Start by seeing your family doctor or a general practitioner if you have any eye problems that worry you. Your doctor may refer you to an eye specialist (ophthalmologist).
Because appointments can be brief, and because there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to be well prepared for your appointment. Here's some information to help you get ready, and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions can help you make the most of your time together. List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out. For dry eyes, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions at any time that you don't understand something.
What to expect from your doctor
What you can do in the meantime
Tests and diagnosis
Tests and procedures used to determine the cause of your dry eyes may include:
Treatments and drugs
For most people with occasional or mild dry eyes symptoms, treatment involves over-the-counter eyedrops and other home remedies. If your dry eyes symptoms are persistent and more serious, your treatment options will depend on what's causing your dry eyes. Some conditions that cause dry eyes can be reversed or managed. Other treatments can improve your tear quality or stop your tears from quickly draining away from your eyes.
Treating the underlying cause of dry eyes
If you have an eyelid condition, such as an anatomic abnormality or a condition that makes it difficult to close your eye completely when you blink, your doctor may refer you to an eye surgeon who specializes in plastic surgery of the eyelids (oculoplastic surgeon).
If your signs and symptoms suggest an autoimmune condition, such as rheumatoid arthritis or Sjogren's syndrome, your doctor may refer you to a rheumatologist for evaluation.
Closing your tear ducts to reduce tear loss
Covering your eyes with a special contact lens
One approach to treating dry eyes is plugging the openings to the tear ducts with tiny silicone plugs (punctual plugs). These plugs close the tiny opening (punctum) that you have in the inner ...
Lifestyle and home remedies
If you experience mild or occasional dry eyes symptoms, you may be able to manage your condition with over-the-counter eyedrops and frequent eyelid washing.
Adding tears with over-the-counter eyedrops
How often you need to put eyedrops in your eyes will depend on your symptoms. Some people need to put drops in every hour, and some need eyedrops only once a day.
Washing your eyelids to control inflammation
Your doctor may recommend that you do this daily, even when you don't have dry eyes symptoms. Stopping this daily routine may cause your dry eyes to return.
Some preliminary research has suggested that omega-3 fatty acids could help relieve dry eyes symptoms. These fatty acids, found in fish and vegetable oils, are thought to reduce inflammation in the body. In theory, increasing the amount of omega-3 fatty acids in your diet could reduce eye inflammation. More study is needed to prove this theory. But if you're interested in trying omega-3 fatty acids, discuss the benefits and risks with your doctor.
Omega-3 fatty acids are available in foods and in supplements. Omega-3 fatty acid supplements can cause a fishy aftertaste and upset stomach. Instead, try adding foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids to your diet, such as:
If you experience dry eyes, pay attention to the situations that are most likely to cause your symptoms. Then find ways to avoid those situations in order to prevent your dry eyes symptoms. For instance:
Last Updated: 2010-06-12
© 1998-2013 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). All rights reserved. A single copy of these materials may be reprinted for noncommercial personal use only. "Mayo," "Mayo Clinic," "MayoClinic.com," "Mayo Clinic Health Information," "Reliable information for a healthier life" and the triple-shield Mayo logo are trademarks of Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research.
Terms and conditions of use