What Causes Dry Eyes?

September 11, 2023

Dry eyes occur when an individual's tears don't lubricate their eyes well enough. There are several reasons tears might be inadequate. Individuals might not produce enough tears, or the tears they do produce might be poor quality. Dry eyes tend to cause discomfort and affected individuals might experience burning or stinging sensations. Some individuals only have dry eyes in certain circumstances.

It's common for eyes to dry out after prolonged screen use, riding a bike, sitting in an air-conditioned room, or flying on an airplane. If individuals have chronic dry eyes, some treatments might help ease the discomfort, though they might need to continue using treatments like eye drops indefinitely. If dry eyes are caused by an underlying medical condition, treating that condition can sometimes reduce or eliminate the problem.


Aging is one of the most common causes of decreased tear production. As individuals get older, their body naturally starts to create fewer tears, which can cause their eyes to become chronically dry. Dry eyes are more commonly found in adults over fifty years old than in other demographics. Women are at a higher risk of developing dry eyes than men, and individuals who use computers frequently are also at a higher risk. Individuals may develop chronic dry eye because their body stops producing as many tears in all situations.

It's also possible individuals will experience dry eye more frequently in temporary situations like when faced with moving air. If individuals think they have age-related dry eye, it might be helpful for them to talk to a doctor to make sure there's not an underlying medical condition. Individuals can purchase artificial tears, which help moisten the eyes and relieve moderate dry eye symptoms, over-the-counter. If an individual's symptoms aren't severe, they might not need anything other than artificial tears.

Dry Air

Dry air is one of the most common causes of temporary dry eyes. If individuals have decreased tear production due to age, they might notice dry air affects them more than it used to. Dryness in the air doesn't stop the body from producing tears, though it does cause tears to evaporate at an increased pace. Wind and moving air from an air conditioner or fan can lead to increased evaporation. If an individual's tears evaporate at a faster rate, they aren't able to lubricate their eyes or protect them from irritants.

One way individuals might be able to treat the condition indoors is by adding a humidifier to their home. Humidifiers spray moisture into the air, helping reduce dryness. Pollutants like smoke can make eyes sting and dry out, so individuals should be cautious if they're camping or if they live in an area near wildfires. Individuals in desert climates may be more susceptible to dry eye, especially during the hot summer months.


Diabetes is a chronic illness that occurs when the body doesn't have sufficient insulin to turn blood sugar into usable energy. High blood sugar can lead to serious damage and even death. Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body is unable to produce insulin. Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body doesn't produce enough insulin. In some cases, type 2 diabetes can be reversed.

Decreased tear production is just one of the eye issues diabetes patients can face. A condition called diabetic retinopathy is one of the most common causes of blindness in adults in the United States. With diabetic retinopathy, the blood vessels inside the retina become damaged. Individuals with diabetes are also more prone to cataracts and glaucoma. Because of the number of eye issues diabetes patients face, they should get a full eye exam each year.

Certain Medications

Several medications can cause a decrease in tear production. If an individual recently started a new medication and notices their eyes are dry, it might be a side effect. If the symptoms aren't severe, individuals should be able to treat them with over-the-counter eye drops. For individuals who have symptoms that aren't relieved by these eye drops, they might want to talk to a doctor about lowering their medication dosage or switching to a different drug. The most common medications that cause dry eye include antidepressants, hormone replacement therapy, decongestants, and antihistamines.

Individuals might also experience dry eye as a side effect of medications that treat Parkinson's disease, acne, high blood pressure, or birth control. Diuretics, which cause the body to expel fluid, are often prescribed for high blood pressure. While this helps relax the blood vessels, it can also lead to less tear production. Antihistamines reduce the production of tears and mucus specifically to relieve allergy symptoms like runny noses and watery eyes.

Less Frequent Blinking

Sometimes the cause of dry eyes is so simple individuals don't even need to use a home remedy. Not only do they not need to buy artificial tears, but they don't have to press a washcloth over their eyes or take a steamy shower. They might just need to blink more often. When individuals blink, tears spread over their eyes and lubricate them. Blinking is how the body keeps the eyes moistened.

If individuals are blinking less often, their tears evaporate from the surface of their eye without being replaced quickly enough, which can lead to their eyes feeling itchy or burning. Individuals are more likely to have reduced blinking when concentrating on a task. They might notice their eyes are dryer when they're working at the computer, driving, or reading. If individuals feel stinging and itchiness in their eyes, they should make a conscious effort to blink more often and see if that helps.

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