Are You Making Your Dry Eyes Worse?

Medically Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on December 03, 2021
3 min read

If your eyes feel dry and gritty or water a lot, you no doubt want quick relief.

Whether your dry eye is painful or just a little irritating, it can get in the way of things you want to do. You may find it hard to read, watch TV, or work on the computer. And being on an airplane or anywhere with dry air is uncomfortable. 

Your tears have an important job. Every time you blink, they spread across the front of your eye. That keeps the surface wet, washes away dirt and other things, and lowers your odds of infection.

Still, there are a lot of reasons your eyes dry out. It's a common problem, especially as you age.

You can do a lot to help your dry eyes feel better. That includes using a warm compress on your eyelids and gently massaging them. But you could be doing things that aren't helping and not even know it:

Make sure you don't:

  • Use the wrong kind of eye drops. Artificial tears replace the ones your eyes aren't making. And they do help relieve some of the discomfort of dry eyes. But some are better than others.Stay away from the ones that promise to get rid of redness. They have chemicals that shrink the blood vessels in your eyes.They can make dry eye worse. Some people are also sensitive to certain preservatives in different eye drops.Your doctor can tell you which drops are right for your eyes.  
  • Smoke. Cigarettes don't just hurt your lungs, they're also bad for your eyes. Smoking or being around smoke can make your eyes burn, sting, and feel scratchy.
  • Take allergy meds: They dry up your tears, which makes it harder for your eyes to wash out allergens.
  • Go outside without shades. Your dry eyes need protection from the wind and sun. Choose sunglasses (or glasses if you wear them) that fit close to your face and have side frames.Wear them all the time, not just when it's sunny.
  • Look at the screen too long. Your eyes need a break. Practice the 20/20/20 rule. Take a 20-second break every 20 minutes and look at something 20 feet away. Make sure your monitor is in the right place. It should be at or just below eye level so you don't strain your eyes.
  • Not blink enough.  Blink more often when you're on the computer, reading, driving, or watching television. You blink less when you're focused on something. Blinking is good for your eyes. It spreads your tears smoothly across them.
  • Wear eye makeup. Mascara and eyeliner can block the glands in your eyelids that make tears. That can cause pain and swelling. Wearing eyeliner along the inside of your eyelids is never a good idea. It can block the glands and get bacteria in your eye.
  • Skimp on liquids. Your eyes can dry out if you don't drink enough water. Try for 8 to 10 glasses a day. If you have a hard time drinking that much, opt for foods with a high liquid content like watermelon, lettuce, and tomatoes.
  • Eat poorly. Oily fish like salmon, nuts, and leafy greens are all high in omega-3 fatty acids, which can help with dry eye.Try to eat at least two servings of fish a week. Flaxseed oil and fish oil are also good sources of omega-3s.
  • Hang out in dry air. Use a humidifier to moisten the air in your home. You can also open windows for a few minutes on cold days and longer in spring and summer to help keep air moist. If you live or work somewhere with a lot of dust, consider using an air filter.
  • Self-treat without talking to your doctor. It may be tempting to buy tear drops or ointments at your local pharmacy. But you'll be better off getting expert help first.A lot of things can cause dry eye. Your doctor can find out why it's happening to you and tell you the best things to do to make it better.