If your eyes sting and burn, look red, or feel gritty -- as if some sand is stuck in them -- you may have dry eye. This condition can happen when the tiny glands in and around your eyelids don't make enough tears to keep your peepers healthy and vision clear.
When tears do their job well, they keep the surface of the eye smooth, comfortable, and hydrated, and wash away dust and debris and protect it from infection. Healthy eyes make tears all day, every day, to stay moist.
But sometimes certain diseases, medications, or even just getting older causes your eyes to make fewer tears. Dry eye can also happen when your eyes don't make the right type of tears to clear out particles or keep the surface well-lubricated.
What you do to make your baby blues, browns, or greens more comfortable depends on what's causing your dry eyes.
In some cases, your doctor may need to treat an underlying issue or disease; or they may prescribe special medications to help your eyes make more of their own tears, or suggest ways to stop tears from draining away from your eyes too quickly.
There are also steps you can take yourself to ease the scratchy, irritating symptoms of dry eyes. Try these simple home remedies to find relief:
Tears are made of oil, water, and mucus. Your eyes need all three parts to stay moist and healthy. Inflamed and flaky eyelids may clog the oil-making glands along the edge of your lid and lead to dry eye.
To help ease irritation and loosen clogged oils, wet a clean washcloth with warm water, wring it out, and place it over your closed eye for at least a minute. Gently press the edge of your eyelid with your finger to help squeeze out the clogged oils. The moist heat helps loosen up the clogged oils in the glands. Wet the cloth often, so it stays warm. You may need warm compresses every day to help lower inflammation, even after your eyes feel better.
Wash Crusty Lashes
Cleaning your eyelids, as well as the surrounding skin and hair, can help get any lid inflammation under control. Drop a bit of baby shampoo or mild soap on your fingertips and gently massage your closed eye, near the base of your eyelashes.
Staring at a computer curbs the amount of times you blink per minute. So try to blink often when you’re online. Follow the 20/20 rule: close your eyes every 20 minutes for 20 seconds.
Another simple trick to keep your eyes moist when at the computer: Set your screen below eye level. You won't have to open your eyes as wide, which may help slow tear evaporation between blinks.
Eat (Naturally) Oily Fish
Salmon and tuna, for example, or sardines, trout, and mackerel all contain omega-3 fatty acids. Research suggests these healthy fats help the oil-making glands in your eye work better, which can ease irritation.
Other foods naturally high in omega-3 fats include walnuts, vegetable oils (like canola and soybean oil), and flaxseed. You can also take omega-3 fatty acids as a pill or tablet. Talk your doctor before you start any new supplement, just to make sure it won’t affect any conditions you have or medicines you take.
Every part of your body needs water to stay healthy, including your eyes. Drinking water helps keep them moist.
But don't wait until you're thirsty to sip water. By then, you may already be slightly dehydrated.
Instead, aim for eight to 10 glasses throughout the day. If you don’t like plain water, any other liquid that doesn’t have alcohol or caffeine will do. Water-rich foods -- like cucumbers and watermelon -- also count.
One way to know if you are well-hydrated: Check your pee. If it's colorless or light yellow, you're likely getting enough fluids.
Wear Wraparound Sunglasses
This style can help protect your eyes from drying winds, which cause tears to evaporate more quickly. At home, avoid blowing air from your hair dryer, air conditioner, or fan toward your eyes.
Use a Humidifier and a Filter
This can add moisture to dry indoor air. Putting a pan of water near your heat or radiator has the same effect. An air cleaner that filters dust and other particles may also help prevent dry eyes.
Dos and Don’ts for Drops
Over-the-counter eye drops work just like your own tears and may help. There are many different brands. Some have preservatives added so they last longer, but using those too often may irritate your eyes. Non-preservative eye drops are also available, as well as thicker ointments. Your doctor can let you know if these would help or if you need something else.
What doesn't work for dry eyes: drops that take away redness, which, over time, can irritate your eyes more.
Make sure you’re using a brand of drops that your doctor recommends, and not just anything you see on the shelf.