What are the Symptoms of Dry Eye?

 In Eye Care

Patients sometimes ask – what are the symptoms of dry eye? While the term dry eye syndrome describes the primary result, this common eye health issue has multiple potential causes and treatment options.

Dry eye can happen at any age but is most common among women older than 50. The American Academy of Ophthalmology estimates over 3.2 million American women 50 and older have dry eye syndrome, while 1.68 million men in that same age range are impacted.

Given the prevalence of dry eye, we decided to publish some basic information. Since correct treatment requires an accurate diagnosis and care from an eye care professional, this post is not intended to replace medical care.

To better understand why dry eye is so common, especially among middle-aged and senior populations, it helps to understand its causes.

Causes of Dry Eye Syndrome

Dry eye disease is the result of tears being unable to provide enough lubrication to the eyes. There are a couple of primary reasons for dry eyes to develop. The most appropriate treatment may vary depending on the type of dry eye, the severity, and level of discomfort it is causing.

The two primary causes of dry eye disease are:

  • Tear evaporation: Sometimes, the tears evaporate too quickly often because of blockage to the eye’s oil glands. The oil normally produced protects tears from evaporating too quickly and helps keep the eyes lubricated. The Mayo Clinic describes potential causes in addition to blocked oil glands, including exposure to dry climates, smoke or wind, not blinking enough, nutritional deficiencies, and certain medical conditions.
  • Inadequate tears: The eyes do not produce enough tears or water. This condition is known as keratoconjunctivitis sicca. According to the Mayo Clinic, there is a range of causes, including long-term contact lens use, injury to the eye, aging, some medications, and some health conditions or diseases.

While this summary over-simplifies the underlying causes of the dry eye, we still hope it helps you understand why the symptoms and the prescribed therapies vary so much.

What Are The Symptoms of Dry Eye

Let’s now talk about what are the symptoms of dry eye. The symptoms associated vary; they can happen in just one eye but more commonly occur in both eyes:

  • The sensation of dryness in the eyes.
  • A scratchy, burning, or even stinging feeling in the eyes.
  • Red eyes.
  • Light sensitivity.
  • The feeling that something may be in your eyes.
  • Discomfort wearing contact lenses.
  • Trouble with driving at night.
  • Blurry visions.
  • Tired or fatigued eyes.
  • A stringy textured mucus in or around the eyes.
  • Very watery eyes, which counter-intuitively, is the body’s response to the irritation.
  • Sore and possibly red eyelids.

If you experience any combination of those symptoms, discuss your concerns with your optometrist or eye doctor. Severe dry eyes can lead to eye infections, damage to the eyes’ surface, and other issues. Your comfort is important, but be aware that dry eyes can be more than just an inconvenient source of discomfort. Sometimes people shrug it off and simply self-medicate with over-the-counter eye drops, which can be effective for some milder cases but not for every patient. By now you should be aware of what are the symptoms of dry eye.

Risk Factors Associated with Dry Eye Syndrome

The American Optometric Association and Healthline list a range of risk factors that may contribute to dry eye. These factors include:

  • Gender: Due to changes in hormone levels, women tend to be more at risk than men, especially if using oral contraceptives, pregnant, or during perimenopause and menopause.
  • Age: Although dry eye happens at any age, it is most common in people aged 65 or older.
  • Exposure to smoke, wind, or dry climates.
  • Excessive screen time or hours spent concentrating without blinking enough.
  • Some medications may have a side effect of reducing natural tear production. Examples include antihistamines, decongestants, antidepressants, or blood pressure medications.
  • Medical conditions like diabetes, thyroid issues, rheumatoid arthritis, or any condition contribute to inflammation of the eyelids or other surfaces within the eyes. Conditions like allergies or high blood pressure may indirectly lead to dry eye due to side effects of medications.
  • Contact lens use can lead to temporary or even chronic dry eye.
  • Some eye surgeries, like LASIK, may lead to decreased tear production.
  • Nutritional deficiencies like Vitamin A deficiency.


Lifestyle behaviors can prevent or relieve some types of dry eye syndrome or even relieve some mild cases.

First, consider your computer use and work habits. Blinking too infrequently can make dry eyes worse, which is most likely to happen while working at a computer or doing other focused work. Take frequent breaks. Try the 20-20-20 method; every twenty minutes, take a 20-second break to look into the distance at least 20 feet away. Also, be sure to blink!

When outside, consider wearing quality sunglasses. This helps in a few ways; too much UV light is damaging to the eyes. Also, the glasses themselves shield your eyes from the wind. Wrap-around glasses offer the most protection if you are outside when it is windy.

When indoors, avoid sitting within the path of air conditioning, heaters, and fans. The stream of dry air may further dry your eyes. Consider using a humidifier if the air is especially dry.

Certain nutritional deficiencies can cause dry eye syndrome, and be sure to eat a healthy and balanced diet. Some people find that eating foods rich in Vitamin A and Omega-3 fatty acids may help. Talk with your medical professional about eye-healthy nutrition if you have questions.

If you wear contacts, carefully follow instructions and recommendations from your eyecare team. Prolonged contact lens use is a risk factor for dry eye. The recommendations reduce the risk for this and other conditions such as serious infection.

Diagnosis and Treatment

The first step to diagnosis for dry eye syndrome is a comprehensive eye examination. Your eye doctor will need to be informed about:

  • Any symptoms you are experiencing and their severity.
  • Your personal health history and family history.
  • Medications you are taking and any other therapies even if they don’t seem related to your visual health.
  • Some basic information about your lifestyle, such as your job, time spent using computers, outdoor activities, and possibly more.

At Piedmont Eye Care, we have treated Charlotte-area residents for over a decade. Treating dry eye syndrome is one of our specialties. As mentioned, the best course of treatment will depend on the cause and severity of your condition. Contact us today for more information on what are the symptoms of dry eye and to schedule your examination and consultation.

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