Dry eyes – causes and treatments

For many Australians, increased time in front of screens has resulted in changes to our health. These changes have ranged broadly from reduced fitness right down to the specifics of uncomfortable dry eyes.

Dry eye, dry eye disease or dry eye syndrome is a common affliction that occurs when the eyes don’t produce enough of the right tears to keep the eye surface moist and lubricated between blinks. It is estimated to occur in 7.4% of the Australian population and almost 58% of people aged over 50 years. If left untreated, dry eye can result in damage to the eye surface, fluctuations in your vision and ongoing discomfort.

Symptoms of dry eye

The symptoms may include:

  • Sticky or dry
  • Overly watery
  • Tired eyes
  • Redness and itchiness
  • Gritty/foreign body sensation (like an eyelash in your eye)
  • Mucus around the eyelids especially on waking

Common Causes

Whilst trauma and some medical conditions can cause dry eye, the most common triggers are:

  • Low humidity (e.g. gas heating, air conditioning)
  • Windy conditions & air drafts (e.g. masks)
  • Excessive screen usage
  • Ageing and menopause
  • Irritants like smoking and dust
  • Some medications like oral contraceptives, antidepressants or beta blockers


Acute dry eye

Occasional dry eye as a result of habits or changes in environment can be easily managed with lubricating drops. This will ease your symptoms, provide quick releif and protect your eyes, just like a Band-Aid would. You can get these “artificial tears” from your chemist. Additionally, look at changing the environmental factors that might be aggravating your eyes.

Chronic dry eye

If the lubricating drops are not helping, and your symptoms persist beyond a few months it is time for a full evaluation with your optometrist. Often, chronic dry eye is an indication that there is a functional issue with your eye, rather than a change in your environment, which leads to an issue with the lubricating and hydration mechanism of the eye.

An optometrist will be able to discern between different types of dry eyes by taking a full history and utilising different optometrical techniques. Sometimes a scan of the surface of your eyes is necessary to provide more information on the status of your dry eye. Once the type of dry eye is established, an appropriately tailored treatment and management can be prescribed these may include:

  • Lubricating drops to manage the symptoms
  • Medication to stop the inflammation
  • Optometry treatments that heat and then release the Meibomian glands (oil glands) present in your eyelids.
  • At-home remedies such as applying a hot compress to the eyes or lid scrubbing
  • Advice on habits and environmental factors