Painful eyes? Is your vision in jeopardy?

Painful eyes? Is your vision in jeopardy?

Do your eyes sting or burn? Are they more uncomfortable when you are in air conditioning, forced heat, after a day of looking at the computer or after a night’s sleep? If so, you likely have dry eyes.

Dry eyes, or in medical terminology, keratoconjunctivitis sicca (ker-uh-toe-kun-junk-tih-VY-tis SIK-uh), occurs when your tears are not able to provide enough lubrication for your eyes, and you produce poor-quality tears, or your tears evaporate.


Dr. Michael Weisberg, an ophthalmologist with Advocate Trinity Hospital in Chicago, says his patients with dry eyes typically mention the following symptoms during their initial evaluation:

  • A stinging, burning or scratchy sensation in the eyes
  • A sensation of having something in the eyes
  • Pain or gritty sensation upon opening eyes after sleep
  • Blurred or fluctuating vision and eye fatigue
  • Difficulty wearing contact lenses
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Eye redness
  • Stringy mucus in or around the eyes
  • Difficulty with nighttime driving
  • Watery eyes (which happens when the body overcompensates for dry eyes)


Dr. Weisberg lists these common causes:

  • Aging. Tear production tends to diminish as you get older. Dry eyes are common in people over 50.
  • Medical conditions, including diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, scleroderma, Sjogren’s syndrome, thyroid disorders and vitamin A deficiency.
  • Wearing contact lenses.
  • Certain medications, including antihistamines, decongestants, hormone replacement therapy, antidepressants, and drugs for high blood pressure, acne, birth control and Parkinson’s disease.
  • Tear gland damage from inflammation or radiation.
  • Being a woman. Dry eyes are more common in women. Hormonal changes due to pregnancy, using birth control pills or menopause are major reasons.
  • Eating a diet that is low in vitamin A.
  • Not blinking enough, which usually occurs when you are concentrating at work or while driving.
  • Eyelid problems, such as out-turning of the lids (ectropion) and in-turning of the lids (entropion).
  • Environmental factors like wind, smoke, air conditioning or dry air.


Lifestyle changes like avoiding blowing heat and air conditioning in the home or while driving, using a humidifier, using over the counter eye drops/artificial tears and diet changes can help in some cases. “Make sure to use lubricating eye drops/artificial tears and not those that claim to reduce redness in the eyes, as those can cause additional eye irritation,” says Dr. Weisberg.

“However, sometimes more aggressive treatments will be needed for a lifetime management of this condition, such as medicated eye drops, tear duct plugs and dry eye vitamins,” says Dr. Weisberg. “If you have any of the symptoms listed for a prolonged period of time, you will want to see your doctor, who will take steps to determine the issue or refer to you to an eye specialist for a full evaluation and testing.”


Dr. Weisberg says untreated, chronic dry eyes can lead to complications, including:

  • Eye infections. Tears not only keep the eyes lubricated, they also protect the surface of your eyes from infection.
  • Damage to the surface of your eyes. If left untreated, severe dry eyes may lead to eye inflammation, damage the front surface of the eye (corneal surface), a corneal ulcer and/or vision problems.
  • Decreased quality of life. Dry eyes can make it difficult to perform everyday activities, such as reading.

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About the Author

Kate Eller
Kate Eller

Kate Eller was a regional director of public affairs and marketing operations for Advocate Health Care. She enjoys road trips, dogs, minimalism, yoga, hiking, and “urban hiking.”