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Dry eyes: causes and treatments

In partnership with Dr Joe Paul

Dry eyes are common and can be helped

A young blonde woman with dry eyes putting in eye drops and wearing a blue gym top
A young blonde woman with dry eyes putting in eye drops and wearing a blue gym top

If you’ve ever had dry eyes, you’ll know how uncomfortable it is. And it’s not just discomfort that comes from dryness, but you might also experience blurred vision, redness and maybe even lids that struggle to open. Oh, and then there’s the feeling of grittiness – it can feel like sandpaper each time you blink!

So why does it happen? And how can we treat it effectively at home? We asked Dr Joe Paul, optometrist and Head of Professional Services at Specsavers, to help us see clearly when it comes to dry eyes. 

What are the symptoms of dry eyes?

Dry eye syndrome is a chronic and typically progressive condition, and may not be entirely curable (depending on its cause and severity). It can, however, be successfully managed with the right treatment plan – which can sometimes even lead to improved vision.

Common symptoms of dry eyes can include:

  • Feelings of dryness, grittiness, or soreness that get worse during the day

  • Red eyes

  • Eyelids that stick together when you wake up

  • Temporarily blurred vision, which usually improves when you blink

  • Watery eyes

“Dry eyes develop when there’s a disruption in the production of tears,” explains Joe. “It may be that either they evaporate too quickly, there’s an issue with drainage, or that not enough tears are being produced.”  

What causes dry eyes?

Essentially, a direct result of your tear system being out of balance, dry eyes can be triggered by a number of underlying reasons. Causes of dry eyes can include: 

  • Being in a hot or windy environment

  • Wearing contact lenses

  • Certain underlying medical conditions

  • Side effects of certain medications

  • Hormonal changes, such as during menopause

  • Blocked oil glands, leading to fast evaporating tears

“The change of season can be a major trigger,” adds Joe. “Dry eyes are most likely to occur in winter and spring when there’s lower indoor humidity and high winds.” 

A young man at the dinner table holding a bowl of tomatoes and rubbing his sore eyes

Ways to treat dry eyes

Although dry eye syndrome can be common, if it’s bothering you, don’t feel like you have to live with it. Depending on the underlying cause, your optician can recommend a variety of treatment approaches, including eye drops, to lubricate your eyes, or less commonly, medication to reduce inflammation. 

“Your optometrist will be able to examine the tear glands present along the eyelids in both eyes,” explains Joe. “If your glands are blocked, a warm compress may be recommended to attempt to unblock the glands and improve the function of the eyes’ tear film.” 

For mild symptoms, try taking regular breaks from looking at screens, making a habit of removing your eye make-up, cleaning your eyelids regularly and investing in good-quality sunglasses.   

“Avoid smoke, wind and air conditioning [where possible],” adds Joe. “And if necessary, a referral to an ophthalmologist may be required for further assessment.”

The tips throughout this article serve as broad information and should not replace any advice you have been given by your medical practitioner. 

Dr Joe Paul, an optometrist wearing a collared shirt and looking at the camera

In partnership with

Dr Joe Paul

Dr Joe Paul is the Head of Professional Services at Specsavers, providing clinical and professional support to Specsavers optometrists across Australia and New Zealand. Joe has a PhD in glaucoma research and has previously worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the Centre for Eye Research Australia, and as an optometrist at Specsavers and private practice over the last decade.