7 Silent Signs You Could Have Dry Eye Syndrome (And Why You Can’t Ignore It)
More than just itchy, red, and painful, dry eyes can lead to permanent damage. Here's how to catch the signs of this common chronic condition before it threatens your vision.
Dry eye symptoms affect some 48 percent of American adults, according to a recent poll. And we ignore them at our own peril, as untreated symptoms of dry eye can actually lead to pain, ulcers, corneal abrasions, blurry vision, and in extreme cases, some loss of vision. There are a variety of causes of dry eyes—environmental factors, computer usage, older age, contact wear, and underlying health conditions such as Sjögren's syndrome—but the signs are fairly consistent. One of the universal ones is itchiness, and it comes from lack of lubrication—either the eyes are not producing tears properly, or the tears aren't the right consistency, so they evaporate too quickly, according to the National Eye Institute. And rubbing your eyes, which may be your natural instinct when they're itchy, can exacerbate the irritation. (This is why you have tired eyes after a long workday.)
Another common symptom of dry eyes is a stinging or burning sensation. Although chronic burning, itchy eyes should send you to an eye doctor, you can relieve occasional symptoms of itching and burning with natural rewetting drops, like the preservative-free Clear Eyes Pure Relief, or with these home remedies for dry eyes.
Redness is the body's way of conveying irritation. Much like a skin rash, the eye can develop redness as one of many possible dry eye symptoms. According to Benjamin Bert, MD, ophthalmologist at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, eye drops that constrict the blood vessels, like Visine, are counter-productive in this case. "The body wants to dilate to heal, and medicated drops work against the body," Dr. Bert says. "Pure lubricant drops are the best way to do it."
Light sensitivity, where your eyes may get easily irritated by bright natural or artificial light, is another sign of dry eye syndrome—because dry eyes are lacking the protection that would help them adjust to various lighting. If you have light sensitivity, also called photophobia, it can help to wear sunglasses, especially the wrap-around kind, because they'll not only soften bright light but they'll also help slow tear evaporation from the eye surfaces, according to the National Eye Institute. Use these simple, practical tips to extend the life of your glasses.
Untreated dry eye symptoms can eventually affect your eyesight. The eyes can develop corneal callouses that obstruct your vision, causing blurriness. Damage can be permanent if left unchecked.
Soreness or fatigue
Soreness of the eyes is another possible sign of dry eye syndrome. Eyes can feel sore and tired from the strain of extended screen time, difficulty reading, or excessive rubbing and blinking in response to dry eyes can cause soreness. When we stare at a computer, we're also likely to slow down our blinking, which exacerbates dry eye symptoms.
Sensation of something in your eye
When your eyes are dry and unable to use their natural lubrication effectively, you may have a tiny bit of dirt or debris causing irritation, or it may just feel that way. Unfortunately, the irritation can actually cause small abrasions. "Just like the skin across your knuckles can crack open due to excessive dryness, the eye develops microscopic cracks from similarly dry conditions," Dr. Bert says. Make sure to keep your eyelids clean, removing any makeup before bed to minimize the risk of actual dirt in the eye, and use preservative-free rewetting eye drops to soothe any sensations of a foreign body in the eye.
Overproduction of tears
Perhaps the most surprising symptom of dry eyes is that of copious tears, sometimes to the extreme of running down your face. So how does excess fluid indicate dry eye syndrome? Dr. Bert explains: "If you have excessive tears, this means the tear film itself isn't adequately moisturizing the eye," so the body is essentially sending in emergency tears to compensate. If you have dry eyes, use the preservative-free rewetting drops—or gels and ointments, as needed, wear sunglasses, and avoid dry conditions, like sitting directly in front of a fan or under a vent. The National Eye Institute also recommends using an air cleaner indoors to filter dust and other particles—try Rowenta Intense Pure Air, and to use a humidifier to add moisture to the air. And remember to blink regularly when using digital devices. If symptoms persist after you try these measures, consult your physician for other potential treatment options.