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What causes dry eyes?

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Have your eyes been feeling a little scratchy lately? Here’s how to fix it. 


According to Professor Dan Reinstein, medical director and specialist laser eye surgeon at the London Vision Clinic, around 30 per cent of people in the UK experience dry eyes at some point in their lives…

Your tears are a complex mixture of water, fatty oils and mucus. This mixture helps make the surface of your eyes smooth and clear, and it helps protect your eyes from infection.

Dry eyes are relatively common and occur when your tears can’t provide enough lubrication for your eyes: typical, for example if you forget to blink when concentrating on your work or computer screen.

For some people, the cause of dry eyes is decreased tear production. For others, it's increased tear evaporation and an imbalance in the makeup of your tears.

But the condition can also be caused by several health problems which reduce the number of tears produced, such as diabetes, thyroid disorders or rheumatoid arthritis; by some medications, including antihistamines, HRT and those to treat high blood pressure; laser eye surgery and ageing. 

In addition, factors such as dry air, wind and smoke contribute to an increase in tear evaporation.

What are the symptoms of dry eyes?

  • Dry eyes can cause the eyes to feel:
  • Dry
  • Scratchy
  • Irritated or uncomfortable
  • Feels like there is something in your eye even when there isn’t
  • Blurry vision

How can I treat dry eyes?
“For most people with occasional or mild dry eye symptoms, the standard treatment for dry eyes involves lubricating drops known as ‘artificial tears’”, says Dr Sarah Brewer.

If your symptoms are persistent and more serious however, you may want to address the underlying problem to prevent further damage to your eye. Though the severest causes may require surgery, there are some simple things you can do to help reduce symptoms.

Professor Reinstein advises washing your eyes every day. “Use the shampoo you would use when washing your hair in the shower, close your eyes and use your fingers to rub your eyelashes. Do it as part of your personal hygiene routine,” he says. “The shampoo will clear excess oil from the glands around your eyes, keeping them clean and healthy.”

While, as a more natural remedy, “increasing your intake of oily fish, or taking an omega 3 fish oil supplement may help”, suggests Dr Sarah. This is because the tear film has three basic layers: oil, water and mucus. Problems with any of these layers can cause dry eyes.

Another option is sea buckthorn oil, whose omega 7 fatty acids and antioxidants are thought to increase the function of the Meibomian glands, which release oil into the tears to increase their lubricating qualities and reduce their evaporation. Try NEW Healthspan Omega 7 Sea Buckthorn Oil. 

Though notoriously difficult to obtain through diet alone, research involving 100 people with dry eyes found that taking 2g sea buckthorn oil in supplement form, daily, for 3 months, produced significant relief of eye redness and burning compared with placebo.

Sarah Brewer graduated as a doctor from Cambridge University. Having worked in hospitals and general practice, she gained a Master's degree in Nutritional Medicine from the University of Surrey. She is the author of over 60 popular health books and writes widely on all aspects of health including complementary medicine. More from this expert.

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Nutrition Expert sources the latest information and advice from a range of qualified doctors, nutritionists and coaches. We always endeavour to have the most up to date information possible and publish new content weekly. However with the constant research in this field sometimes some of our older articles can become out of date. If you see anything that you believe needs to be updated please let us know via our Contact Us page