Tears are for more than expressing emotion during your favorite Nicholas Sparks movie — they also clean and moisturize your eyes.
About 16 million people in the United States have been diagnosed with a condition known as dry eye disease, where you don’t make enough tears or they dry up too quickly. And it’s more common in women — especially around menopause. If you have dry eye disease, you might notice you wake up in the morning with dry eyes that are gritty, red and irritated. Dry eyes can also cause blurry vision. Luckily, there are treatment options that can help.
What is dry eye disease?
Every time you blink, tears spread over the surface of the eye, lubricating, cleaning and keeping your vision clear. This is your body’s tear film, which consists of three layers: the oily outside layer, the middle watery layer and the inner mucus layer.
If you don’t make enough tears or they evaporate too quickly, you can end up with dry eyes. While everyone can experience dry eyes occasionally, dry eye disease is a medical condition that can be chronic, meaning it lasts for a long time.
There are two types of dry eye disease, with most people having a combination of the two.
What are the symptoms of dry eye disease?
Dry eye disease can feel like your eyes are gritty, or that you have something in your eye. Besides feeling scratchy, you might also notice:
What are the risk factors for dry eye disease?
There are certain factors that put you at increased risk for dry eye disease that you don’t have control over, such as being over age 50 or assigned female at birth.
Other risk factors can include:
Some people think there may be a connection between dry eyes and headaches. One 2021 study showed there may be a link between people with dry eyes and migraine attacks.
How is dry eye disease diagnosed?
To be diagnosed with dry eye disease, you may see an ophthalmologist or optometrist, doctors who specialize in treating eye conditions, and do a full eye exam. This includes looking at your eyes and how they blink, as well as asking you about the medications you’re taking and if you have any other health conditions.
Your ophthalmologist might do a few tests, including:
How can you manage or treat dry eye disease?
There are a variety of treatment options available for dry eye disease to discuss with your eye care professional. These include:
You might also consider asking your eye care professional about supplements or vitamins for dry eyes, such as:
If you’re waking up with dry eyes or notice you are frequently experiencing dry eyes, talk with your healthcare provider about your concerns. Getting a diagnosis can help you begin treatment as soon as possible.
This educational resource was created with support from theMore Real. More Substance. YouTube Channel from the Viatris Eye Care Division.