Whether caused by cold weather, screen-time or ageing, dry, uncomfortable, stinging eyes are never welcome. We asked an optometrist for their top tips for caring for our eyes
You know the feeling: tired eyes after a day spent at your desk, rubbing hot eyes after a long day at a blustery beach or squinting from an overnight flight – there’s a reason they call it the red eye.
You may put it down to tiredness, but with one-in-four people experiencing dry eyes, you could be suffering from the condition too (also known as Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca or dry eye syndrome).
What are the symptoms of dry eyes?
You may experience eyes that are:
• Gritty feeling
• Sensitive to light
• Watering more than usual
“Despite its name, having dry eyes can actually cause your eyes to water,” says optometrist and clinical advisor at the College of Optometrists, Daniel Hardiman-McCartney. These excess tears act as a response to a lack of lubrication. “My patients often describe it as eyes feeling gritty, like there’s sand in their eyes, or a mild burning sensation.”
However, these symptoms could be caused by other conditions, so consult a Boots pharmacist who can advise whether you need to see a GP or optician.
This may be recommended if you still have dry eyes after trying treatments for a few weeks or there's any change in the shape of your eyelids.
“We’ve seen a big increase in dry eyes since working from home and hybrid working began.”
What causes dry eyes?
Tears are made up of water, oil and mucus. Dry eye syndrome happens when the chemical balance of the tears is thrown off; the eyes don’t produce enough tears or they evaporate too quickly.
“While it won’t cause blindness, it can cause discomfort, blurry vision and eye damage,” explains Daniel. “We’ve seen a big increase in dry eyes since working from home and hybrid working began. This is because people are forced to use their eyes in a different way when staying at home – often glued to screens for work and leisure.”
And here’s the rub: “During screen-time your blink isn’t complete, which can cause tears to stagnate and their quality to deteriorate,” Daniel reveals.
“If you discover you have dry eyes, don’t worry. There are very simple ways to help,” he adds. “There are many and potentially numerous causes for dry eyes, so it’s often a case of trial and error to find out which course of action works for you.”
Read on to discover the common causes of dry eyes and how to treat dry eye symptoms.
1. Hormones, ageing, cold weather & late nights
Studies show that using contraception, menstruation and menopause are risk factors, putting women within those groups at higher risk of experiencing dry eye, due to fluctuating hormones.
The condition is also more common in people over the age of 50 because the glands that make tears, particularly the oily part, become less effective with age, so tears spread across the eye less effectively, losing their ability to cling to the eye’s surface as we get older.
“The meibomian glands in your eyelids, which produce the oily part of your tears, may become less effective and can become blocked,” Daniel explains. Eye make-up may make the condition worse – particularly eyeliner.
“Not removing eye make-up entirely, can block tear ducts,” he says. “Under the microscope you can see bits of make-up floating in the tears and they can exacerbate dry eyes.”
“The best way to unblock the meibomian gland is through regular cleaning and warm compresses. This can help loosen the crusts on the eyelid so that they are easier to remove,” he advises.
Younger people might experience the same effect in autumn and winter when dry, cold winds blow and can cause eyes to stream.
“Protecting your eyes by wearing sunglasses in hot, smokey or dusty environments can protect eyes. Plus, while not enough on its own, drinking more water may help your body produce a more healthy volume of tears, as well as cutting down on alcohol and caffeine, which can make the symptoms of dry eye worse,” Daniel advises.
2. Certain medications, medical conditions or recent laser eye surgery
Some causes – including those who suffer from conditions such as Sjögren's syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes and lupus – may mean that over-the-counter remedies don’t help the symptoms of dry eyes.
“Speak to your doctor or an optometrist about prescription medication. You may need active drugs to increase, stimulate and improve the consistency of your tears,” advises Daniel. Symptoms include uncomfortable, red eyes and can be disabling.
“An ideal surface for the front of the eye is smooth but this condition makes it rough, which can lead to abrasions on the front of the eye and eventually problems with the cornea.”
3. Screen exposure
“If you have high exposure to screens, it can lead to dry eyes and skin, or eyelashes clogging the tear duct and trapping irritants and allergens, which can make the problem worse,” explains Daniel.
“It’s most common in those with very dry or very oily skin. Warm compresses, or cleaning with sterile water, wipes or washes, may be able to help.”
How to help dry eyes
If you suffer from dry eyes, there are some simple things you can try to help provide relief. These include taking regular breaks from your computer screen and keeping it at just below eye level, wearing glasses instead of contact lenses, using a humidifier to prevent the air from becoming dry and cleaning your eyelids daily.
It can also be helpful to consider eye drops, gels or other treatments. Pop in for a chat with your local Boots pharmacist who’ll be more than happy to provide advice suited to your needs.
“If you’re not a fan of drops, sprays are good because you can apply them to closed eyes,” says Daniel. “They coat the lashes and eyelid margins with oil and then seep into the tears as you blink.”
“Gels can be worth trying if your eyes tend to become dry overnight,” he adds.
Here are six of our picks to help prevent and relieve the symptoms of dry eyes.
Consider: Boots Itchy & Watery Eyes Eye Drops
• Size: 10ml
• Contains natural plant extracts
• Contact lens-friendly
Just one to two drops of these can help provide relief for the symptoms of itchiness and irritation associated with windy weather and computer-screen use. Blink as often as required after applying and feel eyes soothed and refreshed in, well, the blink of an eye.
Consider: Boots Night Gel Drops – Dry & Irritated Eyes
• Size: 10ml
• Contact lens-friendly
Like an oasis for eyes, apply before bed and these intensive hydration drops can help restore tired peepers overnight – ideal for those feeling the drying effects of wearing contact lenses, using computer screens, central heating, air conditioning or travelling.
Consider: The Eye Doctor Essential Antibacterial Dry Eye Compress
• Heat in the microwave
• Can be used in excess of 200 times
This reusable antibacterial hot and cold eye compress helps relieve the symptoms of a wide range of eye conditions. Heat it slightly, in the microwave, and the self-hydrating, bead-filled pad provides sigh-inducing relief for dry-eye symptoms.
Consider: La Roche-Posay Respectissime Eye Make Up Remover for Sensitive Eyes
• Size: 125ml
• Formulated for sensitive eyes
• Waterproof eye make-up remover
Remove every trace of mascara, minus the irritation, with this gentle bi-phase remover for sensitive eyes that gently melts make-up away without the need for scrubbing.
Consider: Dyson Purify Humidify + Cool™ Auto React
• Remote controlled
• Fully sealed to HEPA H13 standard
Humidifying and boosting the air quality inside your home, this multitasker promotes powerful air circulation, drawing pollutants from every corner into its filters and projecting purified, humidified air throughout the room. Its three sensors monitor the air quality to ensure the environment you live in is a chef’s kiss for your wellbeing – and your eyes.