Dry eyes

What are dry eyes and why do we get them?

Tears are a complex combination of water, oils, and lipids, helping to lubricate the eye, wash away debris, stabilise vision, and protect against infection. Every time we blink, our tears cover the front surface of our eye, known as the cornea, keeping it hydrated and healthy. When the eyes don’t produce enough tear fluid, when the quality of the tear fluid produced is poor, or when the tear fluid evaporates too quickly, we can get dry or scratchy eyes, and our eyes can become irritated and inflamed.

Dry eyes are usually harmless, although they can result in increased sensitivity and burning in the eyes. If inflammation or infection is suspected, the treatment depends on the cause, the area of infection in the eye, and the degree of the infection. If you have any worries that you may have dry eyes, blurry vision, or sore eyes, you should visit an optometrist, as you may need eye drops with antibiotics.

What are the symptoms of dry eyes?

There are several symptoms of dry eyes, which can include:

  • The feeling of burning, grittiness, sore or itching eyes
  • Brief or intermittent blurring of vision
  • Discomfort in bright light
  • Red eyes
  • Watering eyes
  • Contact lens wearers may find that their lenses become less comfortable to wear
  • Short-term or temporary blurred vision
  • Light sensitivity

What causes dry eyes?

Dry eyes can be caused by several factors:

  • Reduced blink rates associated with visual tasks, e.g. computer use
  • Side effects from taking certain medication, such as antihistamines or beta blockers
  • Pre-existing medical conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis or Sjögren’s syndrome
  • Pre-existing eye conditions such as blepharitis or eyelid conditions
  • Hormonal changes, typically associated with being female, middle age or pregnancy
  • Problems with drainage via the tear ducts

There are also several non-medical and lifestyle conditions that may cause dry eyes such as:

  • Hot or windy climates
  • Contact lens wear
  • Smoking
  • Air-conditioning units
  • Inadequate production of tears


Tears are generated by glands around the eye and eyelids. With age, the tear production decreases. Dry eyes can also be a side effect of steroids and other medication you take to treat medical conditions. Symptoms of dry eyes develop when the tear amount levels decrease or the tears evaporate quickly. Environmental changes such as windy or dry climates may lead to dry eye conditions if the eye is not nourished appropriately.

Any activity which requires a lot of concentration, such as driving long distances or continuous exposure to screens, may cause dry sore eyes.

How are dry eyes diagnosed?

Optometrists have tests to detect and monitor dry eyes. If necessary, an ophthalmologist is recommended. We recommend an eye examination at least every two years, regardless of whether you have symptoms or established eye problems. Severe cases may be referred to an ophthalmologist for further testing.

What you may expect during an examination:

  • Typically Fluorescein and Lissamine green staining drops are used for diagnosis.
  • A thorough history and symptoms analysis about what may be causing any dry eye problems, both systemic and environmental.
  • Thorough examination of the external eye and adnexa (eyelids, conjunctiva) with slit lamp biomicroscopy using various magnifications, illuminations and slit lamp techniques.

How healthy are your eyes?

Our online eye health test is a great way to identify potential issues or just confirm that everything is actually ok. Take this two minute test and if you’re concerned in any way, you can book an eye test appointment or call and speak to our qualified optical people.

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