9 common culprits for dry eyes

What causes dry eyes?

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S.A.C. Dip (Diet, Exercise & Fitness), Advanced Human Anatomy & Physiology Level 3
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29 September 2020

What causes dry eyes?

Did you know that we have three types of tears, each with their own unique role? How interesting is that! It turns out 'happy tears' or 'tears of despair' may not just be figures of speech!

The first type of tear is known as the 'basal tear'. This has a very practical role - it is made up of three layers and coats the eyes to prevent them from drying out. It is also responsible for ensuring nutrients reach the outer surfaces of the eye.

The second type of tear is one we will all be familiar with – the 'emotional tear'. This, unsurprisingly, is produced when we become overcome with emotion. I don't know about you, but the film 'Marley & Me' never fails to have me producing emotional tears...

And finally, we have reflex tears. These are produced when the eye comes into contact with an irritant, such as a loose eyelash, and it needs to rinse it out. Reflex tears are produced in the lacrimal gland are largely made up of water making them ideal for flushing out unwanted particles.1

However, despite all these fancy tricks, dry eyes are still a common occurrence so, what could be the reason for this?

  1. Aging
  2. Medications
  3. Temperature
  4. Medical conditions
  5. Driving
  6. A hangover
  7. Reading
  8. Contact lenses
  9. Screen time

We'll look at these issues and more throughout this blog!

What are the symptoms of dry eyes?

  • Burning
  • Itching
  • Watery eyes
  • Prickly, gritty feeling in the eyelid
  • Tired eyes
  • Discomfort and irritation
  • More prone to eye infections.

1. Aging process

Dry eyes can be a natural part of aging, though you can lessen the risk by avoiding bad habits like smoking and eating a poor diet. The reason for this symptom is that the tear ducts generally produce fewer tears and become less efficient as we get older.2

Menopausal women may be particularly prone to dry eyes as the tissues lose moisture-holding abilities at this time.

To support your eye health as you get older, you should aim to eat a diet rich in eye-friendly nutrients. This includes leafy greens like spinach and kale, as well as fresh fruits like strawberries. Some food sources of Omega-7, such as fish, macadamia nuts and olive oil, will be beneficial as this is a key nutrient for supporting dry eyes.

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2. Medications

Those on certain medications, such as antihistamines, antidepressants or diuretics, may be more prone to dry eyes.

You should speak to your doctor if you have concerns that your medication is causing dry eyes. In the meantime, aim to drink plenty of water and limit the amount of time you spend using screens, to help ease the symptoms a little.

3. Temperature

Factors such as central heating and air conditioning can contribute to dry eyes. You may also find dry eyes are more common when living in a hot, humid climate, or if you are outdoors in particularly windy weather.

Wearing sunglasses outdoors may bring some protection for these weather conditions. Indoors, however, you may need to focus on increasing the humidity. Try placing blows of hot water under radiators or invest in a humidifier.

4. Certain conditions

The likes of conditions such as diabetes may make you more prone to developing dry eyes. There are also a few conditions that affect the efficiency of the tear-making process, such as Sjogren's Syndrome.

Again, if this is the case, you may want to speak to your doctor for further advice, whilst also following some of the lifestyle and dietary tips for dry eyes that are dotted throughout this blog!

5. Driving

Focusing intently on one thing for an extended period may cause the eyes to dry out as we are less inclined to blink. Driving is one example of where this may happen.

Ensuring you take regular breaks when driving long distances will help to reduce the likelihood of dry eyes. I would also suggest that you avoid pointing the air conditioning into your face, as this will just dry out the eyes further.

6. You’re suffering a hangover

Alcohol is dehydrating, making it quite likely that you will experience dry eyes if you have overdone it the night before.

There is also a link between more general high alcohol consumption and instances of dry eyes.

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7. Reading

This is another activity that requires us to focus intently and, as a result, it may dry out the eyes. This is particularly common if you do a lot of reading or if you tend to read in low light.

Applying a warm compress to the eyes may soothe your dry eyes. Such products are available from a good pharmacist or check out what's online. Alternatively, an inexpensive and soothing home-made version of this is a couple of chamomile tea bags, brewed and then cooled.

8. Contact lenses

Contact lens wearers may notice that they develop dry eyes during and after wearing their lenses. This is because contact lenses limit the flow of oxygen to the eyes, making it more difficult to produce tears.

To keep your eyes healthy when wearing contact lenses, here is my advice:

  • Don't wear contact lenses for more than 10 hours at a time
  • Have a few days off from wearing your lenses each week
  • Avoid using lenses when working with computers
  • Invest in a good quality contact lens or choose a re-useable option (cheap or daily lenses may make you more likely to develop dry eyes)
  • Ensure your lens prescription is right up to date
  • Try not to use lenses if you are prone to allergies and your symptoms are prominent. 

My self-care tip: Use eye exercises to improve eye health

If you regularly experience problems like dry eyes or irritated eyes due to computer work or over-use of technology, try these eye exercises.

9. Screen time

Did you know the average person spends two and a half hours on their phone each day?3 That's a lot of screen time that has huge implications for our eye health!

When using technology like phones, as well as computers, televisions and tablets, we fixate on the screen and do not blink as frequently as normal. This is an issue because blinking moistens and soothes the eyes so, if we do it less often, dry eyes can develop.

People who work at computers are at particular risk. Those spending more than seven hours per day on a computer have been found to have less mucin protein in their tears.4 This matter is crucial for helping to keep the eyes lubricated.

And it's not just adults who are developing this problem! Studies have also shown that the longer they spend using their smart phones, the more likely children are to show signs of dry eyes.5 However, in this group spending time outdoors was seen to have a positive effect on symptoms.

So, it looks like you may have to lock that phone away and get back to nature if you are experiencing dry eyes!



2 https://www.hindawi.com/journals/joph/2014/781683/ 

5 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5084437/ 

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