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Are Your Eyes Dry and Scratchy? Learn About Dry Eye Disease

Understanding Dry Eye Disease

This article is for people who are living with dry eye and their care partners, or anyone who's interested in learning more about dry eye disease (DED). The goal of this activity is to help you talk to and work with your doctor and healthcare team about dry eye.

You will learn about:

  • What DED is

  • Causes and symptoms of DED

  • Ways to help manage DED and its symptoms¬†

  • Talking to your doctor or healthcare team member, and questions you can ask

Test Your Knowledge

When Your Eyes Feel Dry

Having dry eyes can be common for many people and can happen for a number of reasons, including allergies, hormone changes, not blinking enough, or a health condition. Your eyes may also feel dry when it's windy out, on an airplane, in air conditioning, or after reading or looking at your phone or computer screen for a while.

But for many people, dry eyes can mean more than just having a little discomfort. It can mean having a condition called dry eye disease, or DED. 

What Is DED?

DED is a condition where your tear film becomes unstable due to a problem with your tears, such as:

  • Decreased tear production where you don't make enough tears to keep your eyes moist

  • Increased tear evaporation where your tears dry up too quickly

  • Tears not working well enough to keep your eyes moist and lubricated

Having a healthy, stable tear film is important. It keeps the surface of your eye clear and helps protect it from damage. It also plays a key role in having good vision (eyesight).

When your tear film is unstable, it can lead to inflammation (swelling) and damage of your eye's surface. This can cause discomfort and pain and may even lead to vision problems.

Causes of DED

Anyone can have DED, but you may have a greater chance if you:

  • Are 50 or older

  • Are female

  • Have changes in your hormones

  • Wear contact lenses

  • Don't get enough vitamin A or omega-3 fatty acids in your diet

  • Take certain medicines or use eye medicines containing preservatives

  • Have problems with your eyelids or the glands in your eyes

  • Are living with certain health conditions, such as an allergic eye condition, a thyroid condition, or certain skin or autoimmune conditions

DED Symptoms

Not everyone who is living with DED has symptoms. But when they do happen, symptoms can range from mild to severe and can include:

  • Stinging, burning, or scratchy eyes

  • Eyes that feel dry, irritated, tired, painful, gritty, or like you have something in them

  • Red or watery eyes

  • Stringy mucus in or around your eyes

  • Blurry vision

  • Trouble driving, especially at night

  • Being more sensitive to light

  • Trouble wearing contact lenses

Damage and Other Complications

DED can also cause complications (additional problems) that may be severe and greatly impact your quality of life. These can include eye infections and damage to your eye's surface with inflammation, wearing away, and ulcers. DED can also cause vision loss and make everyday activities difficult.

There are ways to help manage DED and its symptoms. But damage can happen even if your eyes feel okay or you're not having any symptoms. So talking to your doctor or healthcare team member about DED will be important.

Ways to Help Manage DED and Its Symptoms

Treatment to help manage DED and its symptoms often works to help you make more tears (increase tear production), save tears (decrease tear evaporation), and/or improve your tear quality.

Ways to do this that your doctor or healthcare team member may recommend, alone or in combination, can include medicines, devices or procedures, and lifestyle changes such as:

  • Cleaning around your eyes properly

  • Avoiding air or heat blowing directly in your eyes

  • Adding moisture to the air with a humidifier

  • Using warm compresses

  • Wearing protective glasses

  • Resting your eyes or taking breaks when reading or looking at your phone or computer

  • Changing your diet or certain medicines you take

  • Avoiding smoke and smoking

Medicines and Devices or Procedures

Medicines your doctor or healthcare team member may recommend to help manage DED and its symptoms can include:

  • A nasal spray or eye drops, gels, or ointments to help increase tear production

  • Eye drops or ointment or pills taken by mouth to help lower inflammation or fight infection

Devices or procedures can include:

  • Small inserts you place in your eyes that dissolve and moisten them

  • An eye covering, special contact lenses, or punctal plugs (tiny silicone or gel plugs inserted in your tear ducts) to help decrease tear evaporation

  • Surgery to close your tear ducts and decrease tear evaporation

All treatments can have side effects. Be sure to ask your doctor or healthcare team member about those that may happen with your treatments.

Talking to Your Doctor or Healthcare Team Member

You can bring DED up with any member of your healthcare team. Not waiting until your next eye appointment or until your symptoms become severe can be key to getting proper care and treatment.

Questions you can ask about DED can include:

  • What symptoms should I look for?

  • What may be causing DED?

  • Are there any lifestyle changes I should make?

  • What treatments are available, and what are their possible side effects?

  • How do I use or take treatment correctly?

  • If I'm not getting relief, is there another treatment I can try?

  • Are there other healthcare team members I should see?

  • Where can I find more information and resources?

Test Your Knowledge

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You have successfully completed the program Are Your Eyes Dry and Scratchy? Learn About Dry Eye Disease.

View Additional Materials on this topic that you may find useful:

Dry Eye

Authors and Disclosures

Clinician Reviewer

Pakinam Aboulsaoud, PharmD

Senior Medical Education Director, Medscape, LLC. Pakinam Aboulsaoud, PharmD, has no relevant financial relationships.


Anita A. Galdieri, PharmD, RPh

Associate Director, Content Development, Medscape, LLC. Anita A. Galdieri, PharmD, RPh, has no relevant financial relationships.


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