What are the Symptoms of Dry Eye?

Last Updated August 25, 2021
Dry Eye

Dry eyes. Gritty, itchy, burning, and uncomfortable eyes.  Some patients even complain of tearing with dry eye because of the irritation.  Sound familiar? Millions of people in the U.S. report the symptoms of dry eye, so it isn’t surprising that at some point, you might share in this unpleasant experience.  Dry eyes are common and can become a chronic problem that poses risks to the health of the eye and, sometimes, can impact vision.

Let’s start with a simple definition of dry eye. Dry eyes are a condition in which a person doesn’t have enough quality tears to lubricate and nourish the surface of the eye. While most relate tears as an expression of sadness or other strong emotion, tears serve several important functions for your eye and vision. Tears keep the eye moist, nourished, and healthy when the eye is functioning properly.  Plus, the film of tears that covers the surface of the eye and is constantly replenished by blinking, creates a pristine, smooth surface that helps provide clear vision.

In addition to tears lubricating the eye, they also reduce the risk of eye infection and protect the eye by washing away dust and debris that may get in the eye. Tears work to help keep the surface of the eyes smooth and clear, which is important to clear vision.

When the eye isn’t well lubricated by tears, that’s when the problems with dry eye symptoms start. When these symptoms of dry eye become increasingly bothersome or chronic, you are likely dealing with dry eye syndrome.

Dry eyes (also known as dry eye syndrome) are the result of the eye’s inability to properly lubricate itself.  This is due to one of two factors:

  1. Not enough tears are being produced
  2. Poor quality tears are being produced

There are several glands in and around the eyelids that produce the oil that is important in tears.  These are called Meibomian glands. If those glands don’t work properly, or become plugged, tear production is affected.  Tears are made up of three key ingredients: oil, water, and mucus. When each of those ingredients is produced in the right amount and quality, tears do the job of keeping the eye well lubricated, smooth, and healthy.  Any imbalance in the levels of water, oil, and mucus and problems emerge.  The tears evaporate too quickly or don’t spread evenly across the surface of the eye, all of which can lead to symptoms of dry eye.

What causes dry eyes?

But what causes dry eyes?  Turns out, there are a lot of contributing factors:

What can you do if you are struggling with dry eyes and tired of the irritation?

First – don’t ignore the signs or symptoms of dry eye. While it may seem like a small thing, you now know that your tears play an important role in the health of your eyes and vision.  Make sure you schedule – and keep – your annual eye appointment and let your eye doctor know about any symptoms you are having so they can be evaluated and, if necessary, treated.  And, if you are experiencing significant symptoms, don’t wait. Make the call and get in to see your eye doctor before any real damage is done. Ongoing dry eye conditions pose a real threat to the health of your cornea and treating it early and prevent progression.

In the meantime, there are a few things you can do that may help reduce the severity or frequency of your symptoms:

Published September 17, 2018