Issue 6 Stories
On-Call Advice

What causes dry eyes?

Dry eyes occur when you don’t produce enough tears, or when the tears produced by your eyes evaporate too quickly.

Decreased tear production can be related to use of certain medications like antihistamines, decongestants, antidepressants, and high blood pressure or birth control medications. Various medical conditions, including diabetes, thyroid problems, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and inflammation of the tear ducts, also can cause decreased tear production.

Many older people experience dry eyes, since tear production tends to diminish after age 50. In addition, women tend to be more affected by the condition, due to hormonal changes resulting from pregnancy, menopause and the use of birth control pills.

Increased tear evaporation can occur when people fail to blink as often as they normally do. Less-frequent blinking is typical for some people when concentrating on tasks such as reading or working on a computer monitor. Environmental factors such as dry air, ambient smoke or wind also can contribute to increased evaporation. Certain anatomical problems with the eyelids, or an imbalance in the composition of the tears themselves, can lead to greater tear evaporation as well.

Thankfully, dry eyes are often less of a danger and more of a nuisance, making daily activities like reading or computer work more challenging. However, tears help protect the eyes from infection, so decreased tear production or increased evaporation can cause a person to be more at risk for getting an eye infection. Severe cases of dryness may lead to problems like inflammation of the eyes or corneal damage.

Occasional or mild cases of dry eyes often can be relieved by the use of over-the-counter “artificial tears,” or lubricating eye drops. Avoid drops that claim to reduce redness, however—they can actually cause additional eye irritation in people with dry eyes. If the problem persists, or if you have extremely dry eyes, see your eye doctor.

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