How to treat dry eyes

Dry eyes are a common problem that can occur occasionally or over long periods of time. 

You may experience dry eyes when your eyes feel scratchy or as if something is in them. The symptoms may last briefly or throughout the day or night.

Symptoms can include:

  • Burning
  • Blurry vision
  • Heavy eyelids
  • Redness
  • Stinging
  • Itchiness
  • Pain

Causes of dry eyes

Environmental factors and medications can affect how your body produces tears. When your body can’t produce enough tears or the composition of your tears change, you may experience  dry eyes.

Possible environmental causes

  • Seasonal allergies
  • Windy or dry environments
  • Smoke
  • Sunlight
  • Long periods of screen time or reading

Possible chemical causes

  • Antihistamines in cold and allergy medications
  • Acne medications
  • Antidepressants 
  • Birth control pills
  • Anxiety medications
  • High blood pressure medications

Who’s most likely to have dry eyes?

Being over the age of 50 increases your chances of having dry eyes, and women tend to experience dry eyes more often than men. Certain conditions may also make you more likely to develop dry eyes, including autoimmune disorders, diabetes, thyroid disorders, and menopause.

How to prevent dry eyes 

Follow these tips to keep your eyes moist:

  • Wear sun glasses that shield wind.
  • Cut down on screen time.
  • For every hour of screen time or reading, take a short break.
  • Close your eyes for a couple minutes during the day.
  • Blink repeatedly for a few seconds every so often.
  • Use a humidifier in your home.

Treatment for dry eyes

An eye care provider can help you determine the cause and best treatment for your dry eyes.

Examination and testing can determine the quality and quantity of your tear production. Examination and testing also can look at the possibility of autoimmune disorders or other chronic conditions that can produce dry eyes.

If your dry eyes are caused by a certain medication, your doctor may be able to recommend alternatives.

For severe cases of dry eyes, medical and possibly surgical options can alter how your eyes maintain sufficient moisture.

Consider seeing a doctor first

There are many over-the-counter remedies for dry eyes. While they may provide temporary relief, they may not address the root problem and may end up causing irritation or infection if used improperly.

When using over-the-counter drops, gels, and artificial tears: 

  • Follow the package directions.
  • Avoid touching the applicator tip on the surface of your eye.
  • Discontinue use if your symptoms do not improve or if they get worse.
  • Seek medical attention if you develop an adverse reaction. 

If you find yourself using drops more than four times per day, use preservative free artificial tears to prevent becoming irritated by preservatives. Preservative free drops are the drops found in single-dose vials.  

Your doctor can provide additional options if over-the-counter medications do not relieve your symptoms.


Last reviewed: 
July 2018

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