Home Symptoms Dry eyes: causes, tips and help

Dry eyes: causes, tips and help

by Josephine Andrews
Published: Last Updated on 177 views

Dry eyes occur when too little tear fluid is produced or when it evaporates too much. Affected people have red and/or burning eyes. Some also report a foreign body sensation in the eye. In addition to contact lenses and dry heating air, diseases such as diabetes can also cause dry eyes. Read more about the causes of dry eyes and what the doctor and you can do about it.

quick overview

  • Description : In dry eyes, the surface of the eye is not moistened with enough tear fluid, either because too little tear fluid is produced or the tear film evaporates more.
  • Signs : reddened, itchy, burning eyes, foreign body sensation in the eye , increased tearing, possibly a feeling of pressure and pain in the eye
  • Causes and risk factors : e.g. staring at the computer or television screen for too long, dry room air, wearing contact lenses for too long , tobacco smoke, car exhaust fumes, air conditioning, drafts, older age, female sex, diseases (such as conjunctivitis, diabetes, thyroid diseases, autoimmune diseases), medication
  • When to the doctor? Dry eyes should always be checked out by an ophthalmologist. There may be a medical condition behind it that needs treatment.
  • Medical treatment : Therapy for underlying diseases, use of “artificial tears”, possibly cortisone-containing medication
  • What you can do yourself : Avoid drafts and tobacco smoke, ensure sufficient humidity in rooms, ventilate regularly, do not wear contact lenses for too long, take regular breaks from PC work, drink enough, etc.

Dry eyes: description

Dry eyes (medical: keratoconjunctivitis sicca, sicca syndrome) occur when the surface of the eye is no longer sufficiently moistened with tear fluid. The tear film normally keeps the surface of the eyeball smooth and supple and allows for clear vision. It also contains germicidal substances and thus protects against infections. It also supplies the transparent cornea with oxygen and nutrients because it does not have its own blood vessels .

In dry eyes, there is not enough tear fluid. It feels like having a grain of sand in your eye . In addition, there is an increased feeling of dryness, which is expressed by burning and itching eyes . In addition, red eyes often occur . Eyes often tire quickly , for example when working on a screen. In addition, they are highly sensitive to light .

Dry eyes can also cause a feeling of pressure in the eye . In rare cases, dry eyes hurt .

Paradoxically, increased tears are also observed in dry eyes : Due to the constant irritation, even minor influences such as a light wind trigger tears in the eyes. This can lead to blurry vision.

Other subsequent symptoms are swollen eyes and mucus secretion (those affected have sticky eyelids, especially in the morning).

The symptom of “dry eyes” is relatively common: about a fifth of all people suffer from it. Both eyes are usually affected. However, some sufferers only have a single dry eye.

Dry eyes: causes and risk factors

A lubricating disorder of the surface of the eye – i.e. the cornea and conjunctiva as well as the inside of the eyelid – can be triggered either by reduced tear production or increased evaporation of the tear film (e.g. due to a change in the composition of the tears). The tear film consists of several layers and contains an aqueous and a fatty phase. The latter stabilizes the film by protecting it from evaporation.

external influences

The most common cause of dry eyes are external influences. We blink less often when working on the computer or when watching TV in a concentrated manner. Then the blinking frequency, which distributes the tear film evenly over the eye, can decrease from ten to 15 times per minute to only one to two beats per minute. It is also referred to as Office Eye Syndrome .

Tobacco smoke, car exhaust fumes and ozone in the atmosphere also irritate the eyes. Drafts, car fans, air conditioning systems and dry heating air increase the evaporation of the tear film. Wearing contact lenses with low oxygen permeability for too long also has a drying and irritating effect. Injuries to the eyelids and eye surgery can also result in sicca syndrome.

biological causes

Tear production decreases with age. Older people therefore suffer from dry eyes more often than younger people.

In addition, women are more at risk than men because the female sex hormone estrogen can disrupt tear production. Hormone replacement therapy during menopause therefore increases the risk of dry eyes.


Moisture disorders of the eyes also occur in connection with various diseases. These include, for example, diabetes mellitus, diseases of the thyroid gland , chronic rheumatism and inflammatory vascular diseases.

Many immunological diseases are also associated with dry eyes. The reason: the conjunctiva, which produces part of the tear film, is involved in important immune functions in the body. For example, in the autoimmune disease Sjögren’s syndrome, the formation of tear fluid is disturbed.

Conjunctivitis can also be a trigger for dry eyes. If only the conjunctiva is inflamed in one eye, a single dry, red eye results, while the other eye is healthy.

Other triggers for sicca syndrome are viral infections and nerve damage. Since the surface of the eye corresponds to a transformed outer skin in terms of development , various skin diseases also lead to dry eyes.

When children suffer from dry eyes, in most cases an illness is the cause.


Certain medications can interfere with tear production if taken over a long period of time. These include psychotropic drugs, sleeping pills, beta-blockers, hormone preparations and medication for allergies. Corticoids (“cortisone”), which are contained in eye drops and ointments for conjunctivitis, for example, also trigger dry eyes.

vitamin A deficiency

If the eyes are burning and dry, a vitamin A deficiency can also be the cause . One reason for the vitamin deficiency can be a liver dysfunction.

Dry eyes: therapy

In most cases, dry eyes are treated with “artificial tears” . Which of the numerous drop or gel preparations is helpful depends on the cause of the dry eyes: If tear production is too low, tear substitutes that supplement the aqueous phase of the tear fluid can help. Preparations containing fat are used to improve the quality of the tear film.

If the dry eyes do not improve with the “artificial tears”, anti-inflammatory therapy with cortisone or cyclosporine eye drops may be necessary.

There are also invasive measures to increase the amount of tear fluid. For example, the tear drainage canals can be sclerosed or sealed with plastic plugs.

If there is an underlying disease such as diabetes, treating it can also relieve dry eyes.

Dry eyes: home remedies & tips

The following measures can help to prevent dry eyes or alleviate existing symptoms:

  • Make sure there is enough moist, fresh air in the room. For example, use a humidifier and ventilate regularly.
  • Stay out of direct air conditioner drafts to avoid stressed red eyes. When driving, set the blower so that the jet of air is not directed at your eyes.
  • When working on the computer, take regular (every hour) short breaks when you are not looking at the screen. It also helps to consciously blink, because the frequency of blinking decreases when you stare at the monitor.
  • Avoid staying in smoke-filled rooms.
  • Do not wear contact lenses for too long at a time.
  • Only use artificial tears that do not contain preservatives. These can trigger allergies and increase the dryness of the eyes.
  • Avoid irritating cosmetic products near your eyes.
  • Drinking a lot also prevents dry eyes. You should drink at least two liters of liquid (water, mineral water, tea, juice drinks, etc.) every day.

Finally, one last tip: there are glands (meibomian glands) on the edges of the eyelids that produce the fatty secretion that forms the upper, oily layer of the tear film. If you carefully clean the lid edges with warm water and then massage them gently (eg with a clean cotton swab), you can support the function of these glands. This can also help against dry eyes.

Home remedies have their limits. If the symptoms persist over a longer period of time, do not get better or even get worse, you should always consult a doctor.

Dry eyes: when do you need to see a doctor?

The causes of dry eyes are very diverse and it is often difficult to differentiate between external factors and the diseases that are causing them. The professional association of German ophthalmologists therefore recommends that you always consult an ophthalmologist if you have dry eyes.

With various examinations, the doctor can assess the amount of tears, the composition of the tear film, the surface of the cornea, the position of the eyelid and the tear film. This is how you can determine the cause of dry eyes:

  • Schirmer test : With the help of a filter paper strip in the conjunctival sac, the doctor measures how much tear fluid the eye secretes.
  • Measuring the tear breakup time : To do this, the doctor stains the tear film with a dye (fluorescein). With a specially equipped microscope (slit lamp), he can observe how long it takes for the tear film to break up after blinking.
  • Examination of the surface of the eye : Changes in the surface of the eye can also be diagnosed with the help of the slit lamp.
  • Tearscope : This optical device makes it possible to more accurately assess the oil content of the tear film.
  • further examination : If necessary, blood tests are carried out, for example to determine the hormone status or the rheumatoid factors. A conjunctival swab shows whether conjunctivitis is present, which is responsible for the dry eyes.

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