Dry eye

Family Health Diary

Lots of people suffer with dry eyes at some stage in their lives and it is very common in winter. ‘Dry eye’ can be from not producing sufficient tears, the tears evaporating too quickly or from not producing the right sort of tears.

Glands in your eyes produce tears that are made up of water, oil and mucus. Correctly formed tears are important to keep your eyes stay moist, smooth and healthy. If your eyes become dry your body tends to make lots of watery tears. These do not keep the eye moist or protected.

Symptoms of dry eyes

  • Usually affects both eyes at the same time
  • Dry eyes or watery eyes
  • Burning or stinging of the eyes
  • Grittiness as if there is something in the eye
  • Red and inflamed eyes
  • Stringy mucus around the eye
  • You might become sensitive to light
  • Blurry vision or eye fatigue
  • Difficulty with driving at night

Why do we get dry eyes?
Some people get dry eyes only sometimes like on airplanes or when looking at a computer screen for hours. For other people it is every day. Most people’s eyes become drier as they age and women tend to have drier eyes than men. Other causes of ‘dry eye’ include:

  • Air conditioning – especially heating in winter
  • Side effects of some medicines
  • Rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes and some other health conditions
  • Laser surgery of the eyes can cause temporary dry eyes
  • Wind, smoke
  • Reading a book or computer screen for a long time
  • The oily film of the tears is produced by a special gland. This gland can become blocked (e.g. in people with blepharitis)

Left untreated, dry eye can lead to eye infections or damage to the surface of the eye.

Lubricating eye drops are usually the first treatment for dry eye. Some people call these ‘artificial tears’. These come in bottles that last for a few weeks or in single use vials. If you only occasionally suffer with dry eye then the individual vials are good value. You can use one just when you need it and other people in the household can use one when they have dry eyes. The unopened vials will be good for several months or years.

If you have dry eye all the time the little bottles are probably best value. Most eye drops need to be thrown out four weeks after they are opened. This is because they are sterile (no bacteria in them) when you buy them. Once you start using eye drops, every time you use a drop some (non-sterile) air is sucked back into the bottle. This means it only take a short time for the bugs to start growing inside the bottle. Obviously it is not good to drop bacteria into your eye with your eye drops. There are also tiny tubes of sterile eye ointment or jelly that will keep the eyes moist for even longer.

When to see doctor or pharmacist
If you have long term dry eyes, or they are painfully dry, it is good to check with the doctor or specialist to find out what is causing the dry eyes. If you are finding it difficult to see or if you have glaucoma and dry irritated eyes then it is important that you see a doctor straight away.

If your eye lids are stuck together in the morning then see your pharmacist as this may be an infection. Talk to your pharmacist if you are not sure if you have dry eye because sometimes it is hard to tell if it is dry eye, allergic conjunctivitis or an eye infection. The pharmacist can ask you a few quick questions and work out the best treatment for you.


Written by: Linda Caddick

This blog provides general information and discussion about medicine, health and related subjects. The information contained in the blog and in any linked mate­ri­als, are not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice.

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