What You Need to Know About Evaporative Dry Eye

Medically Reviewed by Whitney Seltman, OD on July 10, 2023
3 min read

Are your eyelids swollen and your eyes dry and itchy? Does it feel like there's something in your eyes? Is it worse in the morning?

You might have evaporative dry eye. You get it when tiny glands in your eyelids get clogged. But don't worry too much. It's common, and there's a lot you can do at home to make your eyes and eyelids feel better.

Tears prevent your eyes from feeling dry. A tiny bit of tear fluid comes out from behind your upper eyelid every time you blink. It helps wash away germs, dust, and other things.

Tears are made up of three layers -- oil, water and mucous. Tiny oil glands called meibomian glands on the edge of your eyelids make oil that coats the surface of your eyes and keeps the water in your tears from drying out. Together, the water and oil layers keep your eyes wet and keep the surface of your eyes healthy.

When meibomian glands don't work as they should, your tears dry out faster. That will make your eyes feel dry and sore.

Sometimes, the oil gland openings get plugged. Two things can happen: Less oil comes out and the oil that does is crusty. This can make your eyes hurt and cause blurry vision.

This kind of dry eye usually affects older people. But it can happen at any age. It's more common in people with diabetes and those with oily skin conditions. It affects women more often than men.

You may not feel anything. Or you might notice when your eyelids feel sore or swollen. Dry eyes often feel gritty or itchy, like there's something in them.

Your eyes can become red, sore, and watery, which can make it hard to see well. Other symptoms include:

  • Burning
  • Crustiness
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Blurry vision that comes and goes


First, clean your eyelids. You'll feel better once you get rid of dead skin, oil, and bacteria. Your eyelids are delicate so it's important to be gentle when you try these steps:

  • Use a warm compress. Soak a face cloth or cotton pads in warm water. Close your eyes and hold the cloth onto your eyelids. Repeat and keep it on for about five minutes. Do this twice a day until your eyes feel better and once a day after that. Applying heat to this area will help your glands make more oil, make it flow more freely, and melt away any crust that's formed.
  • Massage your eyelids. This can help release tears and keep the oil glands open and flowing. You can do it while you have the warm compress on. Gently press your fingertips to the edge of your eyelid just above the eyelashes. Roll your finger upward on the lower lid while you look up. Then, roll it downward on the upper lid while you look down.  Be careful when you do this. Too much can make your eyes feel worse.
  • Clean your lash line. Use a Q-tip, your fingers, or a warm washcloth on your fingertips to gently scrub along the lashes on both eyelids. This helps get rid of oil, bacteria, and other things that block oil gland openings. Use a gentle soap or watered down baby shampoo. Choose a product that won't irritate your eyes. Ask your doctor if you aren't sure what to try. Do this once a day.
  • Add Omega-3 fats to your diet. These fats improve the consistency of the oil. Flaxseed oil and fish oil are both good sources. Don't take them if you're on blood thinners or take medicine to lower your blood sugar levels. Talk to your doctor if you aren't sure whether you should use them or not.

If none of these treatments help, your doctor may suggest medications like antibiotics, ointments for your eyelid, or artificial tears. They may also tell you to avoid places with low humidity and heating or air conditioning. They can make dry eyes worse.