Dry Eye Symptoms

Dry eyes can be very aggravating and are unfortunately very common. They occur when the eyes do not produce enough tear fluid or when the fluid evaporates too quickly.1,2

Lifestyle factors such as dry air, wearing contact lenses, or spending long hours in front of a screen can promote the development of dry eyes.3,4,5  Certain medications may also cause dry eyes as a side effect.6 Dry eyes can also be triggered by physical conditions such as diabetes, hypothyroidism, and autoimmune diseases.7,8,9

Your eyes’ tear film keeps the ocular surface smooth and reduces any friction from natural eyelid movements. Tear fluid also contains anti-bacterial substances that protect your eyes. For this reason, dry eyes can cause inflammation and infections to develop.

Dryness usually affects both eyes. Depending on the cause, some people may have only one dry eye.

Dry eyes commonly come with the following symptoms:10

  • Burning and itchy eyes are among the first signs. Affected people frequently rub their eyes.
  • Painful eyes and eyelids. Inflammation and irritation increase the eye’s sensitivity to pain.
  • Red eyes are a frequent symptom because dry eyes are often inflamed and irritated.
  • Foreign body sensation. The feeling of having a grain of sand in the eye is a typical symptom of dry eyes.
  • Feeling of pressure. Some people with dry eyes may experience a dull feeling of pressure in the eye.
  • Swollen eyelids. Inflammation can cause the eyelids to swell.
  • Eyes get tired quickly. This is particularly noticeable when working in front of a screen for long hours.
  • Light sensitivity. Inflammation and an altered tear film composition can increase the eye’s sensitivity to light and pain. Even normal light stimuli may consequently be perceived as painful.11
  • Watery eyes. People with dry eyes paradoxically tend to have watery eyes. The eye tries to compensate for the dryness by increasing its tear production.
  • Impaired and blurred vision. Because dry eyes tend to be watery, vision can be blurred or otherwise impaired.
  • Sticky eyelids when waking up. Secretions can accumulate on the eyelids and lashes, making them sticky.

Dry Eyes Are More Than “Just Uncomfortable”

Most dry eye symptoms are caused by inflammatory responses. Since inflammation can damage the eye, you should always treat your dry eyes, especially if symptoms persist. Artificial tears such as eye drops can quickly relieve the symptoms, and acute inflammation can be treated with anti-inflammatory medications.12 Aim to eliminate any external factors favoring dry eyes as much as possible.


1. Lemp MA, Crews LA, Bron AJ, Foulks GN, Sullivan BD. Distribution of Aqueous-Deficient and Evaporative Dry Eye in a Clinic-Based Patient Cohort. Cornea. 2012;31(5):472-478. doi:10.1097/ICO.0b013e318225415a

2. Tong L, Chaurasia SS, Mehta JS, Beuerman RW. Screening for Meibomian Gland Disease: Its Relation to Dry Eye Subtypes and Symptoms in a Tertiary Referral Clinic in Singapore. Investigative Opthalmology & Visual Science. 2010;51(7):3449. doi:10.1167/iovs.09-4445

3. Dry Eye. https://www.aoa.org/patients-and-public/eye-and-vision-problems/glossary-of-eye-and-vision-conditions/dry-eye. Accessed October 25, 2019.

4. Freudenthaler N, Neuf H, Kadner G, Schlote T. Characteristics of spontaneous eyeblink activity during video display terminal use in healthy volunteers. Graefe’s Archive for Clinical and Experimental Ophthalmology. 2003;241(11):914-920. doi:10.1007/s00417-003-0786-6

5. Kojima T. Contact Lens-Associated Dry Eye Disease: Recent Advances Worldwide and in Japan. Investigative Opthalmology & Visual Science. 2018;59(14):DES102. doi:10.1167/iovs.17-23685

6. Fraunfelder FT, Sciubba JJ, Mathers WD. The Role of Medications in Causing Dry Eye. Journal of Ophthalmology. 2012;2012:1-8. doi:10.1155/2012/285851

7. Zhang X, Zhao L, Deng S, Sun X, Wang N. Dry Eye Syndrome in Patients with Diabetes Mellitus: Prevalence, Etiology, and Clinical Characteristics. Journal of Ophthalmology. 2016;2016:1-7. doi:10.1155/2016/8201053

8. Akpek EK, Klimava A, Thorne JE, Martin D, Lekhanont K, Ostrovsky A. Evaluation of Patients With Dry Eye for Presence of Underlying Sjögren Syndrome. Cornea. 2009;28(5):493-497. doi:10.1097/ICO.0b013e31818d3846

9. Kan E, Kılıçkan E, Ecemiş G, Beyazyildiz E, Çolak R. Presence of Dry Eye in Patients with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. Journal of Ophthalmology. 2014;2014:1-4. doi:10.1155/2014/754923

10. Dry eyes – Symptoms and causes – Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dry-eyes/symptoms-causes/syc-20371863. Accessed October 25, 2019.

11. Galor A, Levitt RC, Felix ER, Sarantopoulos CD. What can photophobia tell us about dry eye? Expert Review of Ophthalmology. 2016;11(5):321-324. doi:10.1080/17469899.2016.1222905

12. Pflugfelder SC, Maskin SL, Anderson B, et al. A randomized, double-masked, placebo-controlled, multicenter comparison of loteprednol etabonate ophthalmic suspension, 0.5%, and placebo for treatment of keratoconjunctivitis sicca in patients with delayed tear clearance. American Journal of Ophthalmology. 2004;138(3):444-457. doi:10.1016/j.ajo.2004.04.052

  • December 20, 2019