What Causes Dry Eyes And Can It Be Prevented? | Eye Love Cares

what causes dry eyes

Understanding what causes dry eyes can help you identify the best treatment solution and preventative methods. Although, there are certain factors you can’t control. For instance, if you are a woman aged 50 or older living in the United States, statistically you are more likely to have suffered dry eyes than any other group of Americans. Over 4.88 million Americans 50 and older report having suffered from dry eyes. Out of that number, three million are women, and 1.68 million are men. And it is estimated that 30 million Americans have it but may not know it! What causes dry eyes? For that matter, what causes dry eye syndrome? For those who suffer from this consistently, what causes chronic dry eye? Read on to discover the answers to these questions and more about keeping your eyes healthy.

Related: Natural Remedies For Dry Eyes

What causes dry eyes?

This question is much more complicated than you might realize.

what causes dry eyesYour body not creating adequate tears causes dry eyes. Tears are not only needed to react appropriately to Hallmark movies and country songs. Tears are also crucial to eye health. You will learn more about tears later.

Another factor that can cause dry eyes is that tears evaporate too quickly. Tear evaporation occurs when your room’s climate is too dry, or a breeze causes your tears to dry too soon. But there are loads of other things that cause this as well.

Another factor that causes dry eyes is that the tears that you produce are of poor quality. Now you have another item to add to your list of worries. Are my tears good quality tears?

In summary, if you are not able to create enough quality tears that do not evaporate quickly, you will have dry eyes.

What causes the factors leading up to dry eyes?

You know you are not producing enough tears, but why is that? Sometimes the problem can stem from a medical condition involving the eyes. Perhaps the reason is that environmental factors are causing dry eyes. Perhaps dry eye is a symptom of another more complicated or severe illness, or your eyes may be dry because of a medication you have been either prescribed or taking over the counter.

Medical conditions that cause dry eyes


Lupus is an autoimmune disease that affects many areas of the body. Besides the eyes, it can also affect the skin, blood vessels, joints, heart, kidneys, and nervous system. People who have lupus have an immune system that attacks healthy tissue instead of attacking virus or bacteria. Those with lupus can have diseases affecting the eyelids, retina, sclera, and eye nerves. The most common eye issue for someone with lupus is keratoconjunctivitis sicca, which is commonly referred to as dry eye disease.

Rheumatoid arthritis

When one thinks of arthritis, you may have images of gnarled fingers appearing in your mind. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) affects other areas of the body as well. Since rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory condition that affects the body’s collagen, it only makes sense that it hurts the eyes as well. The sclera (the white of the eye) and the lens (where cataracts form) are made up almost entirely of collagen.

Rheumatoid arthritis causes all sorts of issues in the eyes, such as scleritis (the inflammation of the white part of your eye), uveitis (the swelling of the uvea), retinal vascular occlusions (the blocking of small blood vessels in the eye), glaucoma (damage to the optic nerve), and cataracts (cloudy lens), and dry eye.

Dry eye syndrome, for those who are also suffering from arthritis, can be caused by medications that patients take for arthritis or from actual damage to tear-producing glands.

Sjogren’s Syndrome

what causes dry eyesSjogren’s Syndrome is an autoimmune disease that often accompanies rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. Its main two symptoms are dry eyes and a dry mouth. Remember that if you have an autoimmune disease, your body is attacking healthy tissue. In this case, the tissue that is being attacked includes the mucous membranes and the moisture-secreting glands of your eyes and mouth.

The most common sufferers of Sjogren’s are women who are older than 40, and Sjogren’s syndrome dry eye always has an aqueous deficient component because the disease directly attacks the lacrimal glands (which make tears for the eyes).


People with diabetes know that their eye health suffers because of their disease, but they may not understand specifically what causes dry eyes. People with diabetes are also typically linked with a type of neuropathy called autonomic neuropathy. This can affect the nerves that control the eye’s tear production. Also, those with diabetes tend to have higher levels of inflammation in the body, which can lead to dry eyes.

Thyroid Problems

There are two central thyroid disorders. One is Graves’ disease, where your thyroid makes too many hormones. Graves’ disease affects the muscles around your eyes and can sometimes cause them to enlarge. If the muscles around your eyes don’t work, you may have a difficult time closing your eyes tightly, so tears evaporate. Thyroid disease also causes your body not to make enough tears. A triple whammy occurs for people with Graves’ disease because the few tears that are produced do not have enough oil in them. Oil is necessary for tears because it helps hold water on the surface of your eyes. In addition to Grave’s disease, low thyroid hormones can also be an issue when it comes to dry eye disease.


what causes dry eyesBlepharitis is the inflammation of the eyelids and surrounding eye tissue. Dry eyes are such a central symptom of blepharitis that some argue whether dry eyes cause blepharitis or if blepharitis causes dry eyes. Regardless of which comes first, blepharitis can be caused by an overgrowth of bacteria that live around the eye. The bacteria produce substances called exotoxins that cause the oil-secreting glands to become inflamed. If the glands that secrete oil are inflamed, this is what causes dry eyes (and more specifically, the evaporative form of dry eye).


Related: What is Anterior Blepharitis? Causes & Treatment


Ectropion is a condition where your eyelids (usually the lower ones) turn outward. Entropion occurs when your eyelid turns inward so that your eyelashes and skin rub against the eye surface. Ectropion causes your eyes not to close properly. If your eyelids don’t close, you are more likely to suffer from dry eyes. Entropion causes friction against the surface of your eye. The friction irritates and can lead to dry eyes. Both of these may be able to be corrected with surgery. 


Another autoimmune disease that causes dry eyes is scleroderma. Scleroderma affects connective tissue in the body, but it can also affect the eyes. While your dry eyes may be from the disease itself, you may also be suffering from dry eyes because you are experiencing a side effect from taking a medication for the condition.

Deficiencies that cause dry eyes

It’s not just disease that causes dry eyes. Sometimes you can suffer from sore eyes because of the lack of vitamins or a proper diet.

Vitamin A

what causes dry eyesVitamin A can come from two sources. The animal-derived source of vitamin A is called retinal, which can come from beef and chicken liver, whole milk, and cheese. The plant-based version of Vitamin A comes from colorful fruits and vegetables. This version of Vitamin A is called a carotenoid. Carotenoids come from carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, kale, and cantaloupes, as well as from other brightly colored vegetables.

Vitamin A helps protect the surface, or the cornea, of the eye. A lack of vitamin A causes the cornea to become dry and uncomfortable. It can also lead to the clouding of the front of the eye, corneal ulcers, and vision loss. If you have a vitamin A deficiency, you could also damage your retina. It is pertinent to note that, although a deficiency in vitamin A can lead to dry eyes, an overabundance of vitamin A derivatives (such as those in Retin-A face creams and Accutane) can also cause major dry eye issues.

Medications that cause dry eyes


Antihistamines block histamine receptors. While antihistamines can improve the symptoms of allergies, they are also known to reduce the production of mucus and tears overall. This reduction is what causes dry eyes. Although newer formulas of antihistamines have been improved enough to overcome the dry eye side effects, the older version of antihistamines are used in many over the counter medications that treat other issues. Medications treating colds, diarrhea, and also nasal decongestants may also have an antihistamine in them, and that is what causes dry eyes.


While diuretics reduce the amount of salt and water in your body, it also changes the formula of your tears. Diuretics increase the water output of your body and dry you out overall, meaning they also dry out your eyes. 

Pain relievers

Even ordinary, over the counter pain relievers can cause your eyes to be dry. While aspirin is usually safe for your eyes, ibuprofen can cause dry eyes as well as heavier narcotics.

Related: Dry Eye Syndrome

Blood pressure medications

what causes dry eyesBeta blockers are common in blood pressure medication. They block your body’s response to adrenaline, which in term lowers your blood pressure. While this is good for your heart, it is not great for your eyes. If you take a beta blocker, your body makes less of one of the proteins that go into your tears. This leads to fewer tears, which in turn, leads to drier eyes. Beta blockers also lower the pressure in your eyes. This affects the amount of water in your tears. In other words, blood pressure medication can contribute to dry eyes.


Antidepressants such as Zoloft and Paxil can cause dry eyes. Tricyclic antidepressants such as Elavil, Endep, Adapin, and Sinequan can cause dry eyes too. These anti-anxiety medications can also cause blurred vision, cycloplegia, and dry eyes as well. (Cycloplegia is the inability to focus on an object close because some of the muscles in the eye become paralyzed.)

Acne medicine

Isotretinoin (Retin-A) is often prescribed for severe acne. This medication lowers the amount of oil made by certain glands. While reducing the amount of oil is good for skin with severe acne, it is not necessarily good for the tears. We need oil in tears to help the water adhere to the surface of the eye more easily. Also, if you’ve ever taken Accutane, this high dose of vitamin A actually destroys your oil glands. This includes your meibomian glands, which make the oil for your tears. The jury is still out on whether or not this destruction is reversible, but those who have taken Accutane in the past will often suffer from extreme dry eyes for years afterward.


Oral contraceptives and other hormones

Women who take only estrogen are more likely to suffer from dry eyes than women who take both estrogen and progesterone. Hormones, in general, are known to cause dry eyes because both menopausal and pregnant women are at a higher risk.

what causes dry eyesAntidepressants, medications for Parkinson’s Disease, and sleeping pills

These diseases may seem like they have little in common, but the drugs you take if you are suffering from these diseases do. These drugs block some signals between nerve cells. Some of the messages that are blocked are the signals that tell your eyes to make more tears. If fewer tears are made, you are more than likely going to suffer from dry eyes.

We can’t blame all of our problems on the pharmaceutical industry. Sometimes there are natural reasons that cause dry eyes.

Age (menopause)

Another fun symptom you get to look forward to as you age is dry eyes. This is especially true for older women. One used to think this was because of hormone levels. New research concludes that dry eyes may have more to do with androgens. Androgens are sex hormones. These androgens decrease after menopause, and it is possible that they also cause a decrease in tear production as well.

Environmental conditions

Many environmental conditions are what cause dry eyes. Read on for more!


It is not a surprise that smoke causes your eyes to dry. How does it happen? Tobacco smoke is an eye irritant, and that’s what causes dry eyes. Second-hand smoke also unfairly causes dry eyes, but people who smoke are twice as likely to have dry eyes compared with those who don’t. Also, we don’t ever recommend being around a campfire for a long period of time either, because that smoke can also damage your eyes.


Wind and other airflow dries out your eyes by causing the tears to evaporate quickly. While most of us would attribute the air flow to the outdoor wind, fans and heating and cooling systems can also cause your eyes to dry out faster.

Dry climates

While living in a dry environment has its advantages, one of them is not enjoying comfortable, moist eyes. Those living in Arizona can brag about how 110 degrees doesn’t feel bad because it is “dry heat.” These people also have to use plenty of eye drops because the dry heat causes tears to evaporate quickly.

Computer screens

what causes dry eyesThe device you may be reading on right now may be what causes dry eye syndrome. Drop it! Run for the hills! Or you could just remember to blink more.

For some reason, when we stare at our phone, tablets, computer, or television screens, we forget to blink. Blinking is what causes your eyes to remoisten themselves. If we don’t blink, our eyes become dry. This can lead to eye strain.

Related: Everything You Need to Know About Demodex Blepharitis


Those who drive as a way to earn an income also may suffer from dry eyes. When you drive, you forget to blink as often, and this is what causes dry eyes.


Even readers of books made of paper suffer from dry eyes, especially if they are reading a book by Stephen King. King readers don’t want to turn away from the page and are less likely to blink as often as they should.

Now we have an idea of what can be causing your dry eyes, but what are we going to do about it?

Changes to Make

Switch medications

While we can’t choose what diseases our body suffers from, we may be able to choose alternative therapies for those diseases. If your medication causes your eyes to become dry and uncomfortable, talk with your doctor about trying other drugs that may not have that same side effect.

Move your workstation

Pay attention to your work environment. If you continuously have a fan or air vent blowing over you, consider moving to a different area of the room. Constant air moving across your eyes may be what causes chronic dry eye and can make them uncomfortable.

Wear polarized sunglasses

If you work or play outside and the wind causes your eyes to become dry and irritated, consider wearing a large pair of sunglasses. Not only do they protect your eyes from harmful rays, but they also block the wind.

20/20/20 Rule

If computer screens or reading are what causes dry eyes, use the 20/20/20 rule to alleviate dry eye symptoms. Every twenty minutes, pause from your work and look twenty feet away at something. Continue to look at this item for twenty seconds. Just taking this twenty-second break will give your eyes the break it needs. This will not only help with eye dryness, but it will help alleviate other symptoms of eye strain as well.

Blink Consciously

We shouldn’t have to tell you to blink. This should be an automatic response when your eyes become dry. For some reason, however, when we use a computer or stare at our phone screen, our body forgets to do this. If you spend a lot of time on a computer at work, consider adhering a post-it note on your screen to remind yourself to blink. It will help alleviate your dry eye symptoms, but just know that you might be made fun of because of your note!

Use a humidifier

If the dry air is what causes dry eyes for you, use a humidifier at home and work. Make sure to change the water and the filter regularly so as not to contaminate your work or home.


what causes dry eyesTo alleviate the symptoms of dry eye, you may ask your doctor to prescribe cyclosporine (Restasis) or other medications.

To alleviate dry eye symptoms, you can also try prescription-strength or over the counter eye drops or artificial tears. Make sure you choose an eye drop that is preservative free. It is better to use eye drops before symptoms appear and keep your eyes regularly lubricated. If these don’t suit you, you can always try a myriad of at-home treatments.


If your eyes are severely dry, your doctor may recommend that you have a procedure to improve your condition.

Punctal plugs

It is amazing what doctors can do for the human body. One procedure that can help with dry eyes is to have a doctor plug up the drainage hole at the inner corners of your eyelids with plugs. The plugs are made with either silicone or collagen and can be either temporary or permanent. This helps the tears stay in the eyes.

Punctal cautery

If the punctual plugs worked well, your doctor might want to perform a punctual cautery. This procedure will permanently close the drainage holes.


If you aren’t crazy about having your eye drainage holes plugged (and who would be?), your doctor may want to use LipiFlow. During this procedure, heat and pressure are applied on the eyelids to unclog blocked glands. This procedure actually sounds pleasant to go through, and it can work wonders for those who suffer from meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD) and evaporative dry eye.

Related: What Is Lipiflow Dry Eye Treatment


Regardless of what causes dry eyes, before taking medications and going through procedures, you may consider using one of these self-care techniques.

Apply a warm compress to the eyes, such as the Heyedrate Warm Compress Eye Mask. The compress is as simple as heating it in the microwave and lying it over your closed eyelids.

Clean your eyelids with hypochlorous acid, such as the Heyedrate Lid and Lash Cleanser, each night to remove debris and oil. There are many cleansers marketed to use on your eyes, and we recommend these over baby shampoo. While you are cleaning your eyelids, massage the corners of your eyes gently.

Drink more water! Your mama was right. Drinking enough water is the cure-all for a variety of ailments, including much of what causes dry eyes. Drink between 8-10 glasses each day. Not only will it improve the health of your body, but it will specifically improve the health of your eyes.


We already learned how vitamin A is an essential vitamin for eye health. Vitamin A can be obtained by eating carrots and other colorful vegetables.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

what causes dry eyesStudies show that eating more fatty acids can improve eye health as well. How do you get more omega-3s in your diet? Eat more wild caught fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, and herring. You may also take an over the counter supplement, such as the Heyedrate Omega-3 for Eye Health. Sometimes supplements will be labeled as an omega-3, but it also can be labeled “fish oil.” You can even get more omega-3s in your diet by adding ground flaxseed to your smoothies.

Vitamin B

Luckily enough, there are a wide variety of sources for vitamin B. Even the pickiest eaters should find a food that contains a lot of the vitamin. You can find it in brown rice, barley, and millet. Meat eaters can get vitamin B from red meat, poultry, and fish. Eat eggs, milk, and cheese to get vitamin B. Vegetarians can eat beans, lentils, broccoli, spinach, citrus fruits, avocados, and bananas. Vitamin B, like vitamin A, promotes eye health and can eliminate some of what causes chronic dry eyes.


Zinc is also essential for eye health and can also be found in a variety of foods. Eat meat, shellfish, legumes, seeds, nuts, dairy products, eggs, and whole grains to make sure you get enough zinc intake each day.


We all know that bananas are high in potassium, but did you know that oranges, cantaloupe, honeydew, apricots, grapefruit, and some dried fruits are also high in potassium? You can also eat cooked spinach or broccoli, potatoes, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, peas, and cucumbers for potassium, which is vital for eye health as well.

Symptoms of dry eyes

Obviously, one of the most prevalent symptoms of dry eyes is having burning eyes that feel like sand paper. Other symptoms can signal dry eyes.

Your eyes may sting. They also may feel as if you have something in your eye. Many times, this is described as a gritty feeling. Those suffering from dry eyes may have mucus in or around their eyes. Your eyes may hurt and appear red. Your vision may be blurry if your eyes become too dry, and your eyelids may feel heavy. Even if you are not particularly tired, if you have dry eyes, you may have an overwhelming desire to close your eyes for an extended period of time. Sometimes after long periods of very dry eyes, your body might overcompensate and produce an excess number of tears. Those with dry eyes may not be able to wear contact lenses.


what causes dry eyesWe know that tears keep our eyes lubricated, but what are tears?

Tears are a body fluid that not only lubricates the eyes, but also cleans them.

There is a tear film that coats the eye, and this film is known as the precorneal tear film. It has three layers. The outermost layer is the lipid layer. The lipid layer coats the aqueous layer and prevents the watery layer from spilling onto the cheeks. Special glands, the meibomian glands, produces this lipid.

The aqueous layer is the next layer of the tear film. This promotes the spreading of the tear film. Besides spreading the tear film around the eye, it also controls infectious agents from entering the eye.

The innermost layer of the tear film is the mucous layer. Besides being fun to say, mucous coats the cornea and also provides an even distribution of the tear film, and this is necessary to prevent what causes dry eyes.

There are three types of tears.

Basal tears lubricate the eyes. They also fight bacterial infections.

Reflex tears occur when there is some irritation of the eye from a foreign particle. Reflex tears also are triggered when the eye comes in contact with irritating substances such as onions and tear gas.

The final type of tears are psychic tears. These are tears that are produced during crying or weeping.  Psychic tears occur during strong emotions, such as watching coffee commercials and during the Olympics.

Suffering from dry eyes is irritating, but it can also have long-term effects. If your eyes feel tired from being dry all day that affects your energy level. Tired, dry eyes may cause you to go home instead of going to the gym after work. Tired, dry eyes may cause you to go to bed earlier than what may be necessary. Don’t let tired, dry eyes affect the health of your whole body. Find out what causes dry eyes and then use eye drops, drink more water, and blink more. This will make your eyes and your whole body feel better.


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