The eyes are one of the most sensitive parts of the body, and for a good reason. If you suffer from dry eyes, it can cause significant irritation and disruption to your day-to-day life. Interestingly, dry eyes don’t always feel “dry”. This can be a source of confusion and frustration for many people who just want to figure out what is wrong with their eyes!
Here are some of the signs and symptoms you may have if your eyes are dry:
Sometimes watery eyes can be dry eyes! When the eye’s surface is dry, it can send a signal to our brain, which then tells our eyes to start watering. Unfortunately, these tears do little to relieve the dryness; instead, they just roll out of the eye and down the cheek. Many things can cause watery eyes, so excluding other causes is essential, like a blocked tear duct.
Often dry eyes can cause a feeling of something physically stuck in the eye, like some dust or a grain of sand. When the eye’s surface is not properly lubricated, it can cause too much friction between the eyelids and the eye. The movement of the eyelids can then cause a gritty sensation. Grittiness can also happen when the tears evaporate off the eye’s surface too quickly due to meibomian gland dysfunction.
Have you ever tried to hold your eyes open for a long time or taken part in a staring contest? Usually, you will feel a burning sensation, followed by watering. Some people with dry eyes feel this burn at different times, often at the end of the day or first thing in the morning. One of the biggest causes of dry eyes is inflammation. Inflammation can cause redness, pain and heat. If your eyes feel like they are burning, this can signify dryness, allergy, or both. A cool compress can help this symptom, but anti-inflammatory drops or medications are sometimes needed to resolve it. People with the skin condition rosacea will often feel a burning sensation in their eyes.
Remember what we said about inflammation? It is a common cause of dry eyes, and it can cause the symptoms of pain, heat and redness. Redness anywhere on the eye, either on the white part of the eye or the eyelids, can be a sign of dry eyes. It is important to visit your optometrist or doctor to rule out other causes of red eyes, especially if you are experiencing any pain, changes in vision, or light sensitivity.
Red eyelid rims
Redness on the eyelid margins can signify blepharitis or meibomian gland dysfunction, both major causes of dry eye disease. The redness can also be accompanied by bumps, which are blockages in the meibomian glands – the important oil-producing glands in the upper and lower eyelids. If left untreated, this can progress to a sore, swollen lump called a stye or turn into a chalazion.
Eye irritation and dryness can cause the eye to produce mucous. When this mucous dries, it becomes crusty. Crusting can also be seen on the base of the eyelashes, which is a sign of blepharitis.
A common symptom of dry eyes is itchy eyes – primarily if the itching occurs in the inner corner of one or both eyes. Sometimes the eyelid margin feels very itchy, even if the eye itself feels normal. It is important not to rub or scratch the eyes, as this can make the itching even worse! Itching is also a very common symptom of eye allergy, so if anti-allergy eye drops don’t work, dryness could be the actual cause.
Puffy eyes can signify blepharitis, a significant cause of dry eyes. Puffy eyes can also be due to allergy, tiredness or other mild inflammation like conjunctivitis.
Eyelids stuck in the morning
Sometimes the eyes can get so dry that the eyelids get stuck to the surface of the eye. It can be very difficult to peel them open in the morning. Eye discomfort in the morning can also be a sign of sleeping with the eyes partially open.
Waking up with eye pain
If the eyelids get too stuck to the surface of the eye during the night, they can rip off some of the surface layers of cells when the eyelids open during the night or upon waking in the morning. This is an extremely painful condition called recurrent corneal erosion. This sometimes needs ongoing treatment over a few weeks to months in order to heal properly.
Whenever our eyes are irritated, they become more sensitive to light. Being in bright light environments, especially outdoors on a bright day, or direct sunlight coming through a window, can be very uncomfortable. Extreme light sensitivity can also be a sign of an eye infection, especially if the eye is painful. It is important to see your optometrist or doctor to rule it out.
Did you know that the tears on the surface of our eye play an important role in having clear vision? When eyes are properly lubricated, a smooth tear film helps focus the light entering our eyes. But if the eyes are dry, the tear film can be irregular. Like looking through a window that is foggy or has rain drops on it, it can make the scene outside less easy to see. Another sign that vision is blurry due to dry eyes, is if the vision fluctuates between blurry and clear with blinking.
Sometimes, people with dry eyes will complain of feeling pain in their eye. The cornea, the clear front window of the eye, is one of the most sensitive parts of the body. Any sort of pain in the cornea should be examined by an optometrist or ophthalmologist.
Have you ever felt your eye or eyelid twitching? The technical term for this is eyelid myokymia, and one of the causes can be dryness. It can also happen as a result of tiredness, lack of sleep, or too much caffeine. Sometimes it happens completely randomly, with no known cause, and can take days or weeks to go away! Twitching eyelids are often a cause of embarrassment, as the twitching can happen at inappropriate times like an important meeting or presentation. But don’t worry – eyelid twitches are not noticeable to others around you!
Here at The Eye Practice, we often see patients with dry eyes who have no symptoms at all! With the advanced dry eye technology in our clinic, our optometrists can document, diagnose and treat dry eye before our patients start feeling the symptoms. Much like regular brushing and flossing prevents gum disease and tooth decay, regular eye hygiene can prevent dry eye from developing or worsening. Like most things, prevention is better than cure!
Dry eyes can affect everyone very differently and cause unique signs and symptoms. If you have any combination of the above symptoms, or any other eye symptoms not on this list, contact us to arrange an appointment with one of our knowledgeable optometrists