What Causes Dry Eyes?

Approximately 16 million Americans, two thirds of them women, suffer from dry eye disease, or DED. The symptoms can vary, but the feeling of dryness is universal.

At Harlem VistaSite Eye Care in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City, Brittni Rodriguez, OD, can diagnose and treat your dry eyes and give you lasting relief.

Basics of dry eyes

Dry eyes are caused by an imbalance between tear production and drainage. Either you’re not producing enough tears to keep up with the speed of drainage from your eyes, or your tears are of such poor quality that they don’t lubricate effectively and/or can cause your tear ducts to become clogged.

Glands in and around your eyelids produce tears. Your tears have three components: 

Oil layer

The oil layer is the outer layer of your tears, and it helps slow tear evaporation.

Water layer

The water layer is the middle layer, and it makes up the majority of each tear. This layer helps clean your eyes and wash away particles.

Mucous layer

The mucous layer is the innermost layer, and it helps your tears spread evenly over the surfaces of your eyes.

If any of the layers become compromised, you can end up with DED.

Causes of dry eyes

Many factors can contribute to DED, including:


Most people over age 65 have some level of dry eyes. If you start having dry eye symptoms as you age, ask Dr. Rodriguez for help.


Hormonal events, such as menstruation, pregnancy, birth control use, and menopause can cause women to have dry eyes at twice the rate of men.  

Medications and medical conditions

If you have a chronic medical condition, such as rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, or a thyroid problem, inflammation can put you at higher risk for dry eyes. Furthermore, antidepressants, antihistamines, decongestants, diuretics, and certain blood pressure medications can all contribute to DED by slowing tear production.

Environmental causes

If you’re exposed to smoke, wind, dry heat, or low-humidity climates, this may cause your tears to evaporate quicker, which could lead to dry eyes. People who blink less than usual or work for long hours staring at a computer may also get DED.  

Additional factors

If you leave your contacts in too long, you can develop dry eyes. You can also end up with DED after exposure to radiation or after refractive laser eye surgery.

Treating dry eyes

If you have dry eyes, Dr. Rodriguez may suggest a number of solutions. If you sit in front of a computer all day, she may recommend that you follow the 20-20-20 rule. With this rule, you take breaks every 20 minutes to look at an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds. She may also recommend the following treatments:

Furthermore, she may recommend amniotic membrane treatments to help heal the surfaces of your eyes if your symptoms are severe.

If chronic dry eye is causing you issues, book an appointment online or over the phone with Harlem VistaSite Eye Care today.

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