Authored by Revere Health

Chronic Dry Eyes: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

March 2, 2017 | Ophthalmology

Many people think of shedding tears as a way to express emotion, but tears play a large role in eye health. In fact, tears help keep the eyes lubricated and free of major dryness. They also provide nutrients that help keep the front of the eye healthy and vision clear. Tears can wash away things we don’t want in the eye, and lower the risk of eye infection.

When tears aren’t produced properly, it can cause a condition called dry eyes, also known as dry eye syndrome or chronic dry eyes. Symptoms of dry eyes can be managed and even prevented in many cases by following the right habits. Here’s a look at what causes dry eyes, and what you can do to treat them.  


Common Tear Issues and Symptoms

Those with chronic dry eyes either don’t produce enough tears, or produce tears that are poor quality:

  • Inadequate tears: If not enough tears are produced, or if tears evaporate from the eyes too quickly, it can lead to dry eyes. An inadequate amount of tears can be caused by certain medical conditions, the environment, age and other factors.
  • Bad tear quality: Tears normally contain layers of oil, water and mucus. If there is a problem with one of the three layers, it can cause quick evaporation of tears and unevenness of tears spreading over the cornea, both of which can lead to dry eye symptoms.


Most forms of chronic dry eyes are caused by inadequate tears, and are called keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS). Symptoms of KCS can include:

  • Burning and stinging
  • Light sensitivity
  • Redness in the eyes
  • Mucus around eyes
  • Watery eyes
  • Blurred vision
  • Trouble driving at night
  • Difficulty with contact lenses
  • A feeling as if something is in your eyes, even when nothing is



There are several factors that increase risk for chronic dry eyes:

  • Age: Dry eyes become more and more common with age, especially over the ages of 50 and then again at 65.
  • Gender: Women are more likely to develop chronic dry eyes.
  • Prior conditions: Problems like arthritis, diabetes and thyroid issues can affect the development of chronic dry eyes.
  • Medications: Many blood pressure medications, antidepressants and antihistamines (for allergies) can cause dry eyes.
  • Environment: Wind and dry climates are a risk factor on their own, and environmental toxins like smoke can increase tear evaporation as well.
  • Failure to blink regularly: This happens to many people who look at screens for long periods.



If not treated properly, dry eyes can lead to things like infections, surface damage and pain. They can also damage vision.

Diagnosing dry eyes can usually be done during a comprehensive eye exam.  Another test, called the Schirmer test, uses blotting paper to measure the amount of tears your eyes soak up. There may also be special dye tests used to check the surface condition of your eyes.

Treatment options for dry eyes can vary. Some cases can be treated with drops or take care of themselves in a few weeks. Other treatments focus on removing the initial cause of the dry eyes, and they can include:

  • Medications: Your doctor may prescribe medication to reduce inflammation or create artificial tears.
  • Closure of tear ducts: In this procedure, your doctor will plug small bits of silicone in the tear ducts to reduce tear loss.
  • Unblocking oil glands: This treatment is a pulsating massage-type therapy for the eye that helps alleviate dry eye caused by blocked oil glands.
  • Special contact lenses
  • Light therapy: Generally followed by massage of the eyelid, this is a technique for severe cases.


Preventing Symptoms

If you’ve been diagnosed with dry eyes or are at risk for developing them, there are several preventive tactics you can use to help manage symptoms:

  • Use a humidifier at home
  • Wear sunglasses or other protective glasses
  • Blink often when staring at screens
  • Take breaks every so often from long reading or tasks with your eyes
  • Stop smoking
  • Use eye drops or artificial tears regularly
  • Avoid air blowing into your eyes
  • Nutritional supplements with fatty acids (ask your doctor if these are right for you)
  • Drink lots of water

If you are experiencing dry eye symptoms, speak to your doctor about how you can treat your symptoms.


Revere Health Ophthalmology offers patients the best in eye care, from glasses and contacts to treatment of eye-related diseases and conditions.



“Dry eyes.” The Mayo Clinic.

“Dry Eye.” American Optometric Association.


The Live Better Team

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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.