Tips for Relief From Dry Eye

Medically Reviewed by Whitney Seltman, OD on February 12, 2024
4 min read

Dry eye is more than just uncomfortable. It can hurt your vision. Treatments and some simple actions can bring welcome relief to your sore eyes.

Your natural tears bathe and soothe your eyes every time you blink. If you don’t make enough tears or they evaporate too quickly, your eyes get dry. They can get infected and the surface of your eye can get damaged if dry eye isn’t treated.

Water, oil, and mucus make up healthy tears. Eye drops called artificial tears mimic your real ones. They’re usually what doctors suggest first. You can choose from lots of over-the-counter brands at the drugstore, but try to go with a brand your doctor recommends. You may have to try a few before you find one that works for you.

Drops come with or without preservatives. If you use artificial tears four or more times a day, choose one without. Preservatives can irritate your eyes.

Artificial tears also come in thicker gels and ointments. Use these if the regular drops don’t do the trick. Use them before bed because the thick liquid can blur your vision.

Sometimes, artificial tears aren’t enough and dry eye is long-lasting (chronic). Your doctor may suggest cyclosporine (Cequa, Restasis) drops. This medicine helps make more of your own tears by calming inflammation in the tear glands.

You’ll use it twice a day. It may take up to 6 months to work, but initially may cause some irritation.

A new eye drop called lifitegrast (Xiidra) also curbs inflammation and can improve signs and symptoms of dry eye. You use these drops twice a day, too. You may get relief in as little as 2 weeks.

If your dry eye is serious, you might need steroid eye drops to ease inflammation quickly. You’ll use these for just a short time.

Varenicline (Tyrvaya)  is a newly approved nasal spray that can be taken twice a day in each nostril to increase tear production and give relief to dry eye.

Your eye doctor may suggest blocking your tear ducts so your eyes stay moist longer. Tiny plugs are put into the ducts at the inside corner of your eyes. These slow down tears from draining into your nose. Instead, they stay on the surface of your eye. The plugs can be taken out later or left in the long term.

Or your doctor may recommend surgery to permanently close the ducts.

Flax oil -- omega-3 fatty acids -- may help dry eye in some people. It can help the glands that make the oily part of tears work better. Oil in tears keeps them from evaporating too quickly.

Sometimes, the oil glands at the edge of your lids get inflamed and clogged with hardened oil. Heat can melt it so it can flow freely again. Apply a warm wet washcloth to the area for 30 seconds up to 4 minutes. Do this twice a day when you have symptoms and once a day to keep the problem from coming back.

This can help push the inflamed melted oil out of the glands. Here’s how to do it:

  • With your eyes closed, gently massage your lids by rolling your index finger in a circular motion.
  • Or get a cotton swab and roll it down your upper lid toward the lashes and the edge of the lid.
  • To massage the lower lids, move your finger or swab up toward your lash line.
  • Repeat this 5-10 times.

This can get rid of dried oil or other gunk that’s blocking the gland. Dip a cotton swab into diluted baby shampoo and gently clean along the lash line on your top and bottom lids. Do this once a day. There are also over the counter eyelid cleaners like OcuSoft lid scrubs that you can use.

Use a humidifier to add moisture to indoor air -- especially during the winter. Your eyes won’t dry out as quickly.

Using your computer, smartphone, or tablet can dry out your peepers. That’s because you blink less when your eyes are fixed onto a screen.

Follow the 20/20/20 rule. Take a 20-second break from your digital device every 20 minutes and look at something 20 feet away.

Use artificial tears if you feel symptoms of dry eye while using your devices.

If your contact lenses make your eyes feel dry, your doctor may switch to a different kind, particularly daily disposables that you replace every day. Or they may suggest wearing them for fewer hours. You may need to wear glasses if the dryness is serious.

Wind and the sun can zap moisture from your eyes. Wear wraparound sunglasses to protect them from the elements.