Few things are as irritating as dry, gritty eyes. Our eyes are so sensitive, and the slightest irritation can compromise our vision and make us miserable. Sometimes the cause is clear — a windy or dusty day, for example — but sometimes it’s not so obvious. What’s clear is that dry eyes can disrupt your day, make it difficult to drive at night, cause issues with contact lenses, and make your eyes uncomfortable and tired.
Your eyes have a natural protective lubricant, your tears. And they aren’t just salty water; they are a carefully balanced mixture of water, oils, mucus, and antibodies for fighting infection. They come together to form a protective film or liquid coating over your eyeball. If you don’t make enough tears, your tears evaporate too quickly, or you develop an imbalance in the makeup of your tears, your eyes can become uncomfortably dry.
Those can happen for a number of reasons:
Without treatment, dryness can cause long term issues like infection, damage to the surface of the eye, and impaired vision. Your doctor should be consulted to help you determine the cause of your dry eyes and a proper treatment, but there are some steps you can take at home to help and even prevent dry eyes.
Here are 7 ways to treat dry eyes:
Sometimes an old-fashioned warm washcloth soak can help. It might do the trick if oil glands on your eyelids are clogged and inflamed.
Wear sunglasses when you’re outside. The larger the lens, the more coverage for your eyes. Wrap-around style sunglasses also protect your eyes from wind and debris. At home, protect your eyes from blowing heat, air conditioning, the hair dryer, and cigarette smoke. All these things increase the drying of the eye surface and make the condition worse.
If you’re dehydrated, your eyes are too. Healthy eyes need water to produce tears.
An overall healthy diet supports your eye health along with your general health. But certain foods can give your eye health an extra boost. Healthy fats, like those found in salmon, walnuts, and omega-3 supplements can help the oil glands in your eyes work better.
Other foods with nutrients especially good for eyes include red peppers, dark leafy greens and vegetables, orange fruits and vegetables, sunflower seeds, nuts, lean protein, beans and legumes, and eggs.
You can buy artificial tears over the counter as drops, gels, and ointments. The thickness of gels and ointments can blur your vision, so it’s best to use them before bed. There are brands that also offer preservative-free drops which are expensive, but sometimes worth the extra money. Read the labels and ask the pharmacist.
Your doctor may also prescribe eye drops if over the counter drops don’t help. Prescription drops, including steroids, can work to calm inflammation in the tear duct.
Your doctor might suggest that a temporary plug be inserted in your tear duct. By blocking the tear duct, tears remain on the eye longer. These tear duct plugs can be a short- or long-term solution, and tear ducts can be surgically closed in severe cases.
Untreated dry eyes can be irritating but can also lead to real quality of life issues. If your dry eyes aren’t responding to lifestyle changes or over the counter drops, your doctor can help you find the right treatment to keep your eyes sparkling.