Dry Eye: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Has it ever occurred to you that your eyes become dry and irritated to the extent that you find it discomforting to look at an object continuously? If yes, you may have experienced one of the symptoms of Dry eye.

Dry Eye, or Dry Eye Syndrome is one of the most common eye problems faced by people all over the world. Cut some slack if you suffer from the condition as you are not the only one.

Here’s everything you should know about Dry Eyes:

A Simple Understanding of the eye Condition

Dry Eyes, as the name suggests, is a condition in which the eyes become irritated due to lack of sufficient lubrication on the surface of the eyes. Some of the alternative medical terms of eye condition include:

  • Dysfunctional tear syndrome
  • Keratoconjunctivitis sicca
  • Keratitis sicca







What Causes Dry Eyes?

One of the fundamental elements of healthy eyes is tears; a uniform layer of tears on the surface of the eyes is important for lubrication and preventing infections which might be caused by microscopic foreign particles.

When there’s insufficient amount of tears on the surface of the eyes, the cornea can be irritated and damaged by dust particles and microorganisms. Moreover, the cornea can be susceptible to infection.

The tear is a special fluid as it consists of three components:

  • Mucin – a mucous-like component which helps tear film to adhere to eye surface
  • Aqueous – a watery component that gives a watery nature to tear film
  • Lipid – an oily component which delays the evaporation of the tear film

The critical functioning of these components makes tears. If there’s a problem in any of these components, then it can cause tear instability which can escalate to cause Dry Eyes.

Now here’s the most interesting part; there are different types of Dry Eyes which are determined on the basis of the part of tear film that’s affected. For instance, insufficient secretion of meibum causes the tear film to evaporate quickly which leads to a condition called ‘Evaporative Dry Eye.’

As for the common type of Dry Eye, the Lacrimal Glands fail to produce sufficient aqueous fluid to moisten the eyes.  

Risk Factors

Did you know that the activities that we do every day increase the risk of developing Dry Eyes? Well, if you didn’t think of so, here are some of the common risk factors:

  • Ageing– although anybody can develop Dry Eyes, people aged 50 years and above stand at twice the risk of the condition.
  • Computer use– have you noticed that we tend to blink less whenever we’re engaged in using our computer, smartphone, or any other electronic gadget? Blinking infrequently causes tear to evaporate quickly and trigger the symptoms.
  • Outdoor environment– windy weather and arid climates are some of the environmental conditions that increase the risk of Dry Eyes.
  • Contact lens -although contact lens might not be the sole reason for Dry Eyes, most people discontinue wearing lenses as they experience dry eye discomfort.
  • Eyelid problem – it is possible for the eyelids to fail in closing completely while blinking or sleeping. This condition, known as Lagophthalmos, can lead to severe Dry Eyes.
  • Indoor environment– air heating systems, ceiling fans, and air conditioning can lower indoor humidity and quicken tear evaporation.
  • Medication– prescription as well as non-prescription medicines can increase the risk of Dry Eyes.
  • Smoking– smoking not just causes Dry Eye but also is the cause of a number of other eye conditions.
  • Frequent flying – people who frequently travel by flight experience Dry Eyes as the air inside the aeroplane cabins are dry.

Symptoms of Dry Eyes

Dry eyes involve a number of symptoms with which it can be diagnosed. Some of the common symptoms include:

  • Eye redness
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Scratching, stinging, burning sensation
  • Eye fatigue
  • Blurred vision
  • Low night vision
  • Foreign object sensation
  • Watery eyes
  • Discomfort while wearing contact lenses
  • Itchy eyes
  • Heavy eyes
  • Dryness sensation
  • Sore eyes.

Complications of Dry Eyes

Although Dry Eyes may not bother you much, you need to address it with proper treatment if it persists. If you don’t, then you might stand at the following risks:

  • Difficulty in everyday activities – with irritated eyes, it becomes difficult to perform everyday tasks such as reading books, driving, working on a computer, etc.
  • Damage to the eye surface– recklessness in treating the condition can lead to corneal abrasion, eye inflammation, corneal ulcer, and even vision problems.
  • Eye infections– insufficient tears in the eyes can lead to eye infection.


Here’s a good news for you, Dry Eyes can be treated. However, there are a variety of treatment options to address the different causes of the condition.

Below, we have listed the most common treatment options used by doctors worldwide:

  • Artificial tears

Artificial tears, aka lubricating eye drops, is one of the most common treatment options prescribed by eye care specialists. The basic purpose of the eye drop is to ‘artificially’ lubricate the eyes.

With the number of brands available, lubricating eye drops vary in thickness and formulation. Patients who use artificial tears experience quick relief from it. However, the soothing effect fades quickly and patients might need to use it frequently.

  • Steroid eye drops 

Inflammation during Dry Eyes is what causes redness and burning sensation. Your doctor might prescribe you steroid eye drops to better manage the inflammation.

Steroid eye drops are used with artificial tears and for a short period of time. Often, doctors start the course with steroid drops of mild potency. However, if the symptoms are severe, the doctor may prescribe more potent steroid drop for a short term.

  • Nutritional supplements

Your doctor may recommend you nutritional supplement to lower the symptoms. Such supplements generally contain omega-3 fatty acids.

Food items such as cold water fish including herring, salmon, and sardines are rich in omega-3 fatty acids.

  • Punctal plugs

A punctal plug is a small medical device that is inserted on puncta (tear drainage ducts) on both the eyelids to prevent the tears from draining.

  • Warm compresses

Warm compresses are an excellent way to unclog meibomian glands to relive the symptoms.  Simply applying a warm compress to the closed eyelids will soften the hardened glands.

  • Meibomian Gland Expression

Meibomian Gland Expression is a procedure in which the doctor uses a forceps-type device to remove the clogged contents from the meibomian glands. Prior to performing the procedure, the doctor may apply warm compresses to unclog the pores or soften the clogging content.

  • Lacrisert

Unlike conventional eye drops, Lacrisert is a solid insert which slowly releases preservative-free lubricating agent to provide an all-day moistening effect. Lacrisert is meant to be placed under the lower eye.


As now we know that Dry Eyes is largely caused by our surrounding environment and daily activities, the condition can be prevented. Here are some helpful tips for preventing Dry Eyes:

  • Take breaks when working or studying – it’s important to take periodic breaks when we are visually concentrating.
  • Avoid direct air blow to the eyes – fan, air conditioner, hairdryer, etc can pose the risk of direct air blow to your eyes. Use them mindfully.
  • Be alert to the surrounding environment – going out for a picnic? Carry sunglasses. Wear contact lenses? Use them carefully.  Going out on a windy day? Stay inside or wear wraparound eyeglasses.  No humidity inside the room? Use a humidifier.
  • Drink plenty of water– replenishing your body by drinking plenty of water is a good way to lower the risk.
  • Get sufficient sleep – good sleep is important for a good eye health.

Facts about Dry Eyes

Want to treat yourself more? Here are some of the interesting facts about Dry Eyes.

  1. Cold winters of Dry Eyes
    In a large number of cases, Dry Eyes is prevalent during winters as the air is dry.
  2. Eye drops’ effectiveness differ with brands   
    Different brands have a different formulation for their eye drops. The next time you plan on buying one, consult with a doctor.
  3. Blinking is more important than you might have thought
    When you blink, the moisture in your eyes gets replenished as the tear film is spread across the eyes. Blink more when you experience Dry Eye symptoms.
  4. Levels of Dry Eyes
    There are 4 levels of Dry Eyes. Symptoms of level 1 and 2 can be relieved with OTC eye drops while level 2 to 4 require comprehensive treatment.
  5. Medication that causes Dry Eyes
    Sleeping pills, diuretics, birth control pills, antidepressants, and antihistamines are some of the medication that causes Dry Eyes.
  6. Blame pollution for your Dry Eyes
    The prevalence of Dry Eyes is high in cities as there pollution in the air. Polluted air contains allergens and chemical compounds that can easily irritate the eyes or interfere with tear production.
  7. Don’t make assumptions based on the symptoms
    Although symptoms are a good way to diagnose Dry Eyes, you shouldn’t fully rely on it. Instead, see a doctor for a proper diagnosis.
  8. Dry Eyes can be acute or chronic
    We all have experienced some form of Dry Eyes in our lives. However, some people experience it periodically.
  9. Contact lenses are helpful but can lead to Dry Eyes
    Long-term contact lens use can cause loss of sensation in the cornea which can lead to Dry Eyes.
  10. Pregnant women can develop Dry Eyes

Take care of your eyes

The key to preventing Dry Eyes and ever other eye disease and condition is to have a regular eye check-up. Consult with the eye experts at Disha Eye Hospital.

Disha Eye Hospital is a leading eye speciality hospital in Kolkata. We have highly trained and experienced eye care professionals and offer comprehensive treatment to major eye diseases such as Cataracts, Glaucoma, Corneal Diseases, Diabetic Retinopathy, etc.    

Here’s an Infographic for a quick recap

Guide to Dry Eyes