What causes dry eyes?

What causes dry eyes?


From the moment we wake up, our eyes are working incredibly hard every day. That’s why it’s vital we take care of them and take action when they’re not feeling quite right. 
If your eyes have been feeling uncomfortable lately, it could be possible that you're suffering from dry eyes. It’s not usually anything to worry about, but there could be more to it than meets the eye. 
In this guide, we’ll explore the symptoms and causes of dry eyes, as well as the available treatments that will help your eyes feel their best. 

What are the symptoms of dry eyes?

With so many products out there for dry, itchy, tired or irritated eyes, it can be difficult to figure out what your specific symptoms mean. 
You might be suffering from dry eyes if your eyes are feeling: 

  • Itchy
  • Sore
  • Gritty
  • Red
  • Blurry
  • Sensitive to light

If any of these symptoms occur without an allergic trigger or infection, it’s likely that they’re caused by dryness. 
Another symptom of dry eyes, believe it or not, is watery eyes. When your eyes are very dry, they can start to produce excess tears to compensate for the lack of proper lubrication. 
If you’re unsure what exactly is causing your eye symptoms, make sure you visit your GP or optometrist so they can rule out any potential underlying causes. 


What causes dry eyes? 

Dry eyes can affect anyone, and they’re usually nothing to worry about too much. It happens when your tears aren’t able to provide proper lubrication for your eyes. 
Sometimes, however, there can be an underlying factor causing the issue which you may need to address. If you’re wondering why you’re suffering from dry eyes, keep reading to learn about a few potential causes. 


Dry eyes are particularly common in people over the age of 50. This is because tear production starts to decline with age and our eyes are unable to keep themselves properly lubricated. 
Studies have also shown that dry eyes are more likely to affect women over the age of 50 compared to men of a similar age. 

Contact lenses

Contact lens wearers often experience dry eyes, especially near the end of the day. Dry eyes are actually one of the most common reasons people stop wearing contact lenses completely. 
Certain types of contact lenses cause dry eyes because the lens itself limits the flow of oxygen - necessary for developing tears - into the eye.
The problem can be managed by removing the lenses for a few hours every day and making sure not to fall asleep with your contacts in. You could also try modern silicone hydrogel contact lenses which are designed to prevent dry eyes.


Computer screens

Many of us spend several hours staring at screens all day. >Whether it be a computer, tablet or smartphone, too much screen time definitely isn’t good for our eyes. 
Our eyes stay moist by releasing a soothing tear film when we blink, but it turns out we aren’t actually blinking enough when we’re staring at our screens. When we don’t blink enough as we should, our eyes will become dry as a result. 
This can be helped by following the 20/20/20 rule: take a 20 second break from your screen every 20 minutes and look at something 20 feet away. You could also try using a humidifier to add extra moisture to dry indoor air. 

Air conditioning & central heating

Warming or cooling our homes with air conditioning and central heating can help to keep us at a pleasant temperature, but it can also make our eyes feel dry and uncomfortable. Air conditioning reduces humidity, causing our tears to start evaporating too quickly. 
Central heating has a similar effect; heating the air means the water in it will start to evaporate, decreasing humidity and causing dry eyes


Weather & climate

Similarly to air conditioning and central heating, ever-changing weather and climate can affect the way our eyes feel. Humidity drops during the autumn and winter, so our eyes become dryer along with the air.
Windy weather has a similar effect and can dry your eyes out even more. 

Smoking & alcohol 

We all know that smoking and drinking too much alcohol aren’t the best choices for our health, but did you know these bad habits can have negative effects on our eyes? 
Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it promotes water loss through urine and increases the chance of dehydration. If we’re dehydrated, the part of the tear film which is composed mostly of water will become deficient and our eyes will start to feel dry. 
Smoking can cause dry eyes because the chemicals in cigarette smoke irritate and damage the eyes’ protective film. 

Certain medicines

Most medicines cause side effects of some kind, and sometimes our eyes can be affected. >Whilst antihistamines can make our eyes feel less irritated and itchy during hay fever season, they can also reduce the eyes’ protective film that keeps them moist. 
Nasal decongestants can also dry out the eyes by decreasing tear production. Antidepressants and contraceptive pills, known for their huge range of side effects, can cause dry eyes too. 

Medical conditions

Some medical conditions can leave sufferers struggling with a lot of negative symptoms. Dry eyes can be a symptom of many illnesses and conditions, including: 

  • Sjogren’s syndrome
  • Blepharitis
  • Allergic eye disease
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Lupus
  • Menopause
  • Diabetes

If you think an underlying medical condition could be causing your dry eyes, don’t hesitate to speak to your GP for expert advice. 


Dry eye treatments

As we’ve learned, dry eyes can affect anyone for a number of different reasons. They’re uncomfortable and irritating, but luckily there are plenty of treatments available so you won’t need to suffer any longer! They’re quick, easy and effective and usually available without a prescription. 

Eye drops

Eye drops are one of the most popular treatments for dry eyes, often referred to as artificial tears. They work by moistening your eyes and will usually be an effective treatment if your symptoms are mild to moderate. 
There are plenty of options available without a prescription from brands like Optrex, Vizulize, Clinitas and many more. 
Always read the patient information leaflet to make sure the eye drops are right for you, particularly if you wear contact lenses or have any other problems with your eyes.

Eye mists

Eye mists are ideal if you’re not comfortable using eye drops. They work by stabilising the tear barrier on the surface of the eyes without having to administer the formula straight into your eye. 
To use an eye mist, you simply need to hold the spray bottle around 10cm away from your eyes and spray the mist onto your closed eyelid. Make sure to read the instructions thoroughly and check to see if the mist is suitable for your needs. 

Prescription-only medicines

If you’ve tried over-the-counter products for dry eyes with no luck, you might need to speak to your GP or optometrist about further treatment options. 
Prescription-only medicines are available to treat severe or chronic dry eyes, either as eye drops or oral medication. These types of medicines usually work by reducing inflammation of the eyelids. 
Always speak to your GP or optometrist to discuss your treatment options and only take prescription-only medicines if they have been personally prescribed to you.  

Hopefully, this guide has helped you to understand what causes dry eyes and how we can go about treating them. If you’re worried about your dry eyes or they’re feeling particularly bothersome, make sure you speak to your GP or optometrist so they can use their expertise to get to the bottom of your problem.
In the meantime, feel better for less with Chemist4U and cast an eye over our huge range of eye care essentials.


Faye Bonnell - Medical Content Writer
James O'Loan - CEO & Superintendent Pharmacist
James O'Loan , CEO & Superintendent Pharmacist on 16 March 2023
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