It’s thought that around 1 in 4 UK adults suffer from dry eyes, with women and the over 50s being particularly at risk. The condition isn’t usually serious — and it’s often an unavoidable part of the ageing process — but the symptoms can nonetheless be pretty uncomfortable if left unaddressed.
There can be a number of reasons for eye dryness — environmental factors and even some medications can trigger the condition, while allergies can also exacerbate the problem. If you’re suffering from dry eyes, you’re probably wondering if there’s a permanent cure that can alleviate your suffering for good.
The short answer is no, there isn’t, but the condition can be managed reliably through a combination of treatments and lifestyle changes.
What causes dry eyes?
Dry eyes are usually the result of the eyes not producing enough tears, the tears evaporating too quickly, or the quality of the tears produced by the eyes being inadequate. Another factor may be a condition called nocturnal lagophthalmos (NL), which causes an inability to fully close the eyes during sleep and often leads to dry eyes when waking up.
However, there are also a number of additional risk factors — many of them environmental in nature. For example, you may be more susceptible to dry eyes if you:
- Are a smoker
- Spend long periods looking at a screen without a break
- Spend long periods exposed to dry air (in an air-conditioned environment, for example)
- Wear contact lenses
- Have had laser eye surgery
- Have allergies that affect the eyes (such as hay fever)
- Have a long-term condition such as diabetes and Sjögren’s disease
- Take certain medications such as antidepressants or blood pressure medication
It’s important to remember that it’s common for us to experience dry eyes as we age, as tear production naturally decreases when we reach 50 and older. Female bodies are also more likely to experience dry eyes since hormonal changes can impact tear production.
Can you cure dry eyes?
Unfortunately, there is no permanent cure for dry eyes. That said, some treatments can be used permanently to reduce and control your symptoms, while there are also a number of at-home and lifestyle remedies that can alleviate the problem. These methods will not completely cure dry eyes, but they will help to make the condition more manageable.
Dry eyes are often the result of environmental factors, in which case it’s important to try to identify the common triggers and reduce your exposure to them — for example, by protecting your eyes in very dry or windy conditions, or by taking regular breaks from looking at a screen.
If there is a single underlying cause of your dry eyes, a doctor or an optician may be able to recommend an effective treatment. However, if they’re unable to determine the root cause of your dry eyes, they may refer you to an eye specialist (ophthalmologist) for further tests and to explore alternative treatment options.
Ways to reduce dry eye symptoms
While it’s not possible to cure dry eyes permanently, fortunately, there are several options for treating and managing the symptoms.
Firstly, you should try to identify any environmental triggers that may be causing your dry eyes and try reducing your exposure to these factors. You can often reduce dry eye symptoms by making some fairly straightforward lifestyle changes. For example:
- Take regular breaks from looking at a TV, computer or mobile phone screen
- If you use a computer, position your monitor slightly below eye level
- Avoid spending too long in heated or air-conditioned rooms (and only switch the heating or air conditioning on when absolutely necessary)
- Use a humidifier to add moisture to indoor spaces
- If you wear contact lenses, take them out and wear glasses occasionally to give your eyes a rest
- Wear protective eyewear such as wraparound sunglasses when out in particularly dry or windy conditions
- Stop smoking
There are also a number of effective over-the-counter treatments for dry eye that can help to alleviate and control the symptoms — particularly if you have dry eyes as the result of an underlying condition such as nocturnal lagophthalmos (NL). These include:
- Eye drops, help to relieve irritation caused by dry eyes by stabilising the lipid layer within the tear film. Eye drops available online include:
- Cleansing lotions, such as Blephasol Eyelid Cleansing Lotion, remove dirt and impurities from the eyelids and surrounding skin to help soothe dry eyes.
- Cleansing wipes, such as Blephaclean Eyelid Hygiene Wipes, are used to gently cleanse the eyelid area and reduce inflammation and redness caused by dry eyes.
- Antihistamines, can be used to reduce the symptoms of allergies such as hay fever — which can often lead to puffy, itchy and dry eyes. Antihistamines available online include:
- A heat mask, can help to hydrate the eyes by absorbing moisture. You can purchase a heat mask from a pharmacy, or make your own by simply soaking a towel or flannel in warm water, squeezing out excess moisture, and applying it to your closed eyes for up to 30 minutes.
So, while there’s, unfortunately, no permanent cure for dry eyes (and many of us will likely experience eye dryness as we age), there are several effective ways to reduce and control the symptoms. Try making some minor lifestyle changes to reduce the strain on your eyes, and speak to your GP or pharmacist — or visit our dry eye treatments page — for available treatment options.