Chronic dry eye, or dry eye syndrome, is a condition that can be caused by one of several factors. Regardless of what causes it, this condition means not having enough tears of good enough quality to keep your eyes lubricated and moist. It goes beyond occasionally dry eyes and is persistent. If you have it, you may feel grittiness, irritation, scratchiness, or burning in your eyes. You may also experience blurry vision.
Having dry eyes may not seem serious, but it can be. Tears prevent infections, wash out debris, and keep your eyes comfortable and functioning normally. Without adequate tears, you could end up with serious damage, so seeing your doctor about chronic dryness is important. Dry eye is more complicated than you may realize.
Here are some interesting facts you may not have known about dry eye syndrome.
1. Medications and medical conditions can cause chronic dry eye
One of the most common causes of dry eyes is aging, but anyone at any age may have dry eyes because of medications they take or as a symptom of certain medical conditions. Antihistamines, antidepressants, blood pressure drugs, and decongestants have all been implicated in reducing tear production. Medical conditions that can cause dry eyes include diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and thyroid diseases.
2. Omega-3 fatty acids can help with dry eye
You can also try dietary supplements to help improve your eye condition. Research has found that omega-3 fatty acids improve symptoms of dry eyes. Participants in one study were given 325 milligrams (mg) of EPA and 175 mg of DHA — two types of omega-3 fatty acids — twice daily for three months. Compared to a placebo group, these participants experienced improvements in their symptoms of chronic dry eye. Fish oil supplements are rich in omega-3s. Other foods rich in omega-3s include fatty fishes like salmon and mackerel, chia seeds, ground flaxseeds, and walnuts.
3. The risk of having dry eyes increases as you age
According to research, dry eye is the most common eye complaint in older patients. The prevalence of chronic dry eye increased with age in a group of men studied — from 3.9 percent in men between 50 and 54 years old to 7.7 percent in men over the age of 80. Many people begin to experience drier eyes as they age. It may be a natural part of aging, but it can become chronic and uncomfortable for some people, making treatment necessary. In this study, medications for other health problems also contributed to increased dry eye symptoms in the aging population.
4. Screen time makes dry eyes worse
The time you spend staring at your smartphone, computer, or tablet is probably making your dry eyes worse. The American Optometric Association describes computer vision syndrome as a group of eye diseases and symptoms that are caused by too much time with screens. The possible symptoms are numerous and include dry eyes. If you already have problems with eye dryness, spending more time with your screens is likely to make it worse.
5. Eye makeup can also make dry eye worse
If you wear eye makeup and experience dry eyes, there could be a connection. One study found that particles from eye makeup can migrate into the tear film of your eyes, which exacerbates dry eye symptoms. The tear film is the membrane that covers your eyeball. Particles of makeup attached to this membrane may cause irritation and dryness by causing tears to evaporate more quickly than normal.
If you have dry eye syndrome, it’s best to avoid eye makeup completely. If you do want to use eye products, avoid applying them close to your lash line.
Chronic dry eye is uncomfortable, and it can lead to serious consequences. If you find that your eyes are often dry, irritated, red, or gritty, or your vision blurry, see your doctor for a diagnosis and treatment suggestions. You don’t have to live with this discomfort. There are many possible ways to treat dry eyes and get relief.
Written by Mary Ellen Ellis
Medically Reviewed by Judith Marcin, MD on January 30, 2017