Around 7% of the adult population suffers from dry eye disease.

And dry eyes aren’t just uncomfortable. They can make it hard to function and perform daily tasks, from driving to working. And if left untreated, dry eyes can lead to ulcers, infections, and other eye issues.

But what causes dry eye disease in the first place? Learn about the types and triggers of dry eyes.

What Is Dry Eye?

Dry eye is a disease where the eyes lack sufficient tears to keep them lubricated and protected. Without ample tears, the eyes can burn, sting, and feel scratchy. As the eyes become more irritated, they may get red and watery, and vision may become blurry.

There are two types of dry eye: aqueous deficient and evaporative.

In aqueous deficient dry eye disease, the glands and tear ducts don’t produce enough lubricating tears. In some cases, the eyes may make tears, but the tears fail to offer enough moisture.

In evaporative dry eye, tear evaporation is at the root of the condition. Rather than lubricating the eye, tears evaporate or get trapped in clogged glands in the eyelids. In this case, learning and practicing eyelid hygiene is a crucial part of treatment.

What Causes Dry Eye Disease?

You now know that dry eye is the result of a lack of lubrication, whether from a deficiency or from evaporation. And there are several medical and lifestyle triggers that can lead to dry eye.

Here are the most common causes of dry eye disease in adults.


With age, tear production can slow down, leading to dry eye disease. In fact, age is one of the biggest risk factors in developing dry eyes.

It’s common to experience more eye dryness as you age, especially after the age of 50. For women, dry eye may also come and go during menopause.

But you may not want to blame your age for your dry eyes right away. In some cases, other age-related conditions or illnesses can be the source of dry eye symptoms. And managing the primary cause may help alleviate your eye issues as well.

Medical Conditions

Some conditions are known to inhibit tear production, leading to dry eye disease. Some common examples include thyroid disorders, vitamin deficiencies, lupus, and diabetes.

In other cases, conditions such as Parkinson’s can lead to evaporative dry eye. In the case of Parkinson’s, some patients don’t blink enough due to their condition, leading to tear evaporation.

It’s also important to note that medications used to treat certain symptoms, like allergies, may also cause dry eye disease. And in fact, even artificial tears designed to treat dry and tired eyes can actually perpetuate dry eye disease symptoms.

There are several medical conditions and medications linked to dry eye. Discussing your symptoms with a doctor can help you get the most accurate diagnosis.

Dry Air

It makes sense that dry air may lead to dry eye. When the air lacks moisture, it can speed up tear evaporation on the eyes, leading to dry eye. This is especially common in dry climates and during cold weather.

For some dry eye sufferers, indoor air can also trigger dry eyes. A blasting air conditioner or drying heater can suck the moisture from the eyes.

Protecting eyes when outdoors and using a humidifier inside can alleviate some of the discomfort of dry eyes.

Too Much Screen Time

Devices are practically integrated into our lifestyles, from computers at work to smartphones at home.

But staring at screens too much can trigger dry eye disease.

When people look at their phones and other devices, they tend to blink less. But blinking is essential for distributing moisture around the surface of the eyes. Not only that, but blinking less can cause tears to evaporate, creating the perfect condition for dry eyes.

It’s important to limit screen time and take breaks from devices as often as possible. During these breaks, look away from close-up objects, gazing at something far away instead. And remember to blink regularly to prevent your eyes from drying out.

Wearing Contact Lenses

Suffering from dry eye syndrome is especially uncomfortable while wearing contact lenses. The lenses, too, can become dry, causing irritation.

Contacts block part of the surface of the eyes, which can prevent oxygen and moisture from penetrating. For some, this in itself can trigger dry eyes.

But modern contact lenses are designed to keep the eyes moist and lubricated. Some types of contacts are even created especially for those who are susceptible to dry eye. How, then, do contacts cause dry eye?

In many cases, the contact lenses aren’t to blame; wearing them improperly is the culprit.

Contact lenses should only be worn for a limited amount of time before being removed. They should then be thrown away or properly cleaned and stored in a solution. However, many contact lens wearers fail to properly use their contacts, putting them at risk of developing dry eye disease.

Keep an Eye Out for Dry Eye Triggers

Dry eye is common among adults, causing discomfort and irritation in daily life. Understanding what causes dry eye disease can help you learn about common triggers, as well as treatments.

Don’t turn a blind eye to dry eye. Look for these medical and lifestyle factors that may be causing your dry eye disease. Then, talk to your doctor about the right solution for you.

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