What are the Causes and Solutions to Dry Eyes?

While it can be completely normal to experience dry eyes every now and then, particularly when exposing yourself to certain environments and activities, under some circumstances, it may be necessary to take action. But what actually causes dry eyes and what can you do to avoid them?

Dry Eye Syndrome (DES) or Dry Eye Disease (DED) is one of the most common eye conditions worldwide. While prevalence varies between geographic regions, it typically ranges from 5% to 50% with around a third of adults in the UK thought to be affected. In this article, we take a look at the causes of DES as well as other factors that can cause temporary dry eyes and what you can do to reduce the occurrence of dry eyes.

What Causes Dry Eye Syndrome?

DES is characterised by dryness on the surface of the eye that can lead to itchiness, scratching sensations, increased sensitivity to light, and other discomfort. It is a multifactorial disease that affects the tear film and surface of the eye. This can be due to dysfunction of any component of the lacrimal gland, ocular surface, eyelids and nervous system.

The tear film is the thin layer of liquid that is spread over the eye when we blink. This keeps the eye hydrated and plays a significant role in maintaining the health and function of the eye. The tear film is made up of three layers: the mucin (mucous) layer, the aqueous (watery) layer, and the lipid (oily) layer. Each of these layers is required in order to maintain a healthy tear film and imbalances can potentially lead to dry eyes.

A number of other factors can also trigger the occurrence of dry eyes, including:


Dry eye can affect people of all ages but it becomes increasingly common as people get older. This is because, as we age, our eyes become less able to maintain healthy tear production and tear drainage. Further risk factors such as polypharmacy, androgen deficiency, decreased blink rates, and oxidative stress can also increase the risk of developing DED.


Excessive exposure to screens is another common cause of dry eyes. For many of us, avoiding screens is simply impossible: Phones, laptops, tablets, and televisions have all become a major part of our work and home lives. But this increased exposure can have a significant effect on our eye health.

As we spend more time staring at screens, we may find that we don’t blink as much as we need to. This can cause the surface of the eye to dry out which can trigger symptoms such as discomfort and itchiness in the eye This particular cause of dry eyes and associated symptoms is known as ‘Digital Eye Strain’.

Changes to hormone levels

Hormonal changes can also lead to dry eyes. For example, women may be more at risk of experiencing dry eyes during pregnancy or menopause when hormone levels can fluctuate.

Laser Eye Surgery

Dry eyes is one of the most common side effects of Laser Eye Surgery. The nerves in the eye are responsible for sending information to the lacrimal gland which in turn supplies a continual amount of lubrication to the eye. During Laser Eye Surgery recovery, these nerves are temporarily affected and, as a result, this process is interrupted. This decreases the usual amount of lubrication to the eye.

The good news is that this common symptom usually resolves within a few weeks to a few months and can be managed with the help of lubricating eye drops.

Contact Lenses

Many contact lens wearers will be familiar with the occasional bout of dry eyes – particularly when accidentally leaving their lenses in for too long. This is because contact lenses essentially limit oxygen flow to the cornea – which is necessary for the development of natural tears. The occurrence of dry eyes is now one of the most common reasons for discontinuing contact lens use.

Allergies and Medications

Other environmental factors such as being exposed to smoky or heavily polluted environments, air conditioners and heaters, as well as some kinds of eye makeup, can also worsen dry eyes.

What Can I Do to Reduce Eye Dryness?

Depending on the cause of your dry eyes, you may be able to relieve the symptoms with a few simple lifestyle changes. Identifying and eliminating the cause of your dry eyes can often be enough to relieve your symptoms.

For example, adopting the 20/20/20 rule when using screens for long periods: for every twenty minutes looking at the screen take a 20-second break and focus your eyes on an object like your diary or the scenery outside your window.

However, in some cases, it may become necessary to use artificial tears (eye drops), gels or sprays to keep their eyes hydrated. These products are widely available at pharmacies in the UK. In severe cases, specialist drops may be prescribed by your GP.

If you suffer from dry eyes and would like to know whether this could affect your suitability for Laser Eye Surgery, get in touch with one of our friendly clinic coordinators or Book a Consultation today.