Dry eyes may be an age-old problem. But the latest studies reveal new and rather unexpected reasons why you may feel like something has sapped your eyes of all tears.

For example, did you know that eye makeup and artificial tears can both make dry eyes worse? And yet here we are.

In this post, we’ll talk about the risk factors that may increase your chances of getting dry eyes. But before we begin, here’s a quick reminder about dry eye syndrome and its main causes.

Dry Eye Syndrome and Causes

Your tear film consists of a delicate balance of three layers: oils, water, and mucus. These keep your eyes moist, clean, and healthy while also washing off toxins.

But the slightest disruption in these layers can cause dry eyes. That’s when your eyes can’t lubricate themselves well enough. You are left feeling like there’s an eyelash in your eyes that you can’t blink away.

The symptoms? Dry, gritty, irritated, and inflamed eyes that keep watering as a reflex.

Can crying cause dry eyes too? Crying can make your eyes feel drained, puffy, and tired. But don’t worry, it won’t lead to dry eye syndrome. 

So, what causes dry eye syndrome?

  • Decreased tear production – Your lacrimal glands produce the water layer of your tears that keep your eyes clean and moist. But these glands can lose their function due to autoimmune diseases, ageing, hormonal changes, and eye injury.
  • Increased tear evaporation Your meibomian glands make the oily layer of your tears. This layer keeps your tears from evaporating too quickly. But if your meibomian glands are blocked or inflamed, they stop working as normal. As a result, your tears dry out too fast, causing evaporative dry eye.

Causes vs Risk Factors of Dry Eyes

Dry eye causes refer to the underlying conditions that directly lead to the development of dry eye syndrome. For example, injury to your tear gland or blockage in your oil gland will directly disrupt the production or composition of your tears.

Risk factors, on the other hand, are conditions that increase your likelihood of getting dry eye syndrome.

But they may not directly cause the condition. For example, exposure to dry and windy areas may increase tear evaporation and indirectly cause dryness and discomfort.

13 Risk Factors of Dry Eye Syndrome

A variety of risk factors can make your eyes more vulnerable to dry eyes. Some, like age, female hormones, and systemic diseases are beyond your control.

But other risk factors, like smoking, applying mascara, and overusing contacts can be easily avoided.

1. Age Factor

What causes dry eyes as you age? To begin with, there is a natural decline in tear production. Your lacrimal glands become less efficient with age. This is a major contributing factor to dryness and discomfort in the eyes.

Aging also disrupts the composition of your tear film. In other words, there is an imbalance in the water, oil, and mucus layer of your tears. The result is increased tear evaporation, leading to dryness.

2. Female Hormones

Females are at a higher risk of getting dry eyes than men. Blame the female hormone estrogen for this. It affects the structure and function of your oil and tear-producing glands.

That means any fluctuations in the estrogen levels during pregnancy and menopause are likely to cause dry eyes.

pregnant woman in white dress holding hands on her belly

What’s more, use of oral contraceptives is another reason for dry eyes. It may cause symptoms like itchiness, redness, and blurry vision.

3. Eye Surgery

Eye surgeries, like LASIK, cataract, and glaucoma surgery come with a potential side effect: dry eyes. That’s because these surgeries are invasive and may damage the corneal nerves responsible for tear production.

You may experience dry, gritty, and irritated eyes, especially after waking up. But luckily, the symptoms of dry eyes after surgery are temporary and resolve within a matter of weeks.

4. Certain Systemic Diseases

What medical conditions cause dry eyes? Dry eyes is associated with multiple underlying health conditionsthat affect your body systemically. Medical causes of dry eyes include:

  • Autoimmune diseases – When you have autoimmune diseases, like Sjögren’s syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus, your immune system mistakenly attacks your tear-producing glands.
  • Thyroid disorders Thyroid hormones play a major role in maintaining the health of your tear glands. Imbalances in these hormones can affect tear production.
  • Diabetes High blood sugar levels can damage the nerves and blood vessels in your eyes, leading to decreased tear production.

5. Environmental Conditions

Windy, dry, and polluted environments increase tear evaporation. They can make already dry eyes even worse. Plus, they expose your eyes to irritants that may cause redness and swelling.

Your best bet is to wear protective sunglasses while stepping outside. Also, stay away from hair dryers and artificial air. Instead, bring home a humidifier to increase moisture levels.

6. Prolonged Screen Time

If you’re working at your computer from morning till night, kudos on your work ethic. But you need to take frequent blinking breaks. These will help spread a layer of fresh tears over your eyes.

seated woman in green shirt working on a computer with green plants in the background

Research shows that prolonged screen time is one of the modifiable lifestyle risk factors for dry eye disease. Your blink rate decreases and your eyes don’t get enough moisture to stay healthy.

So, don’t be surprised if you have tired and dry eyes after prolonged screen time.

7. Certain Medications

A long list of medicines that you may take for various health conditions can increase your risk of dry eyes. The list includes antihistamines, antidepressants, decongestants, blood pressure medicines, diuretics, and birth control pills.

These all may affect your tear production, composition of tears, and even the overall health of your ocular surface.

8. Contact Lens Wear

Wearing contact lenses makes you more prone to dry eye. Contacts absorb your tears to maintain their shape. And if that’s not bad enough, they deprive your eyes of oxygen and nutrients.

So, if your eyes feel parched after wearing contact lenses for a few hours, it’s time to switch to eyeglasses.

But if you absolutely must use contact lenses, focus on the material, water content, and fit to prevent dry eyes. Some contact lenses are better than others if you have dry eyes. Check our tips on how to choose contact lenses for dry eyes.

9. Chronic Allergies

Allergies, particularly allergic conjunctivitis, can inflame your conjunctiva (the white part of your eye). They can trigger dry eye symptoms, like dryness, redness, and discomfort.

man with glasses sneezing in front of a computer

To make this worse, when you have an allergic reaction, you are more prone to rub your eyes. This is when germs are transferred from your hands, resulting in infections and inflammation.

10. Nutritional Deficiency

Your eyes need proper nutrition to maintain the health of the ocular surface and produce quality tears. That means if your diet is lacking in certain nutrients, especially vitamin A and omega-3 fatty acids, you’re at a higher risk of developing dry eyes.

Give your eyes a boost of omega-3 fatty acids to reduce inflammation and tear evaporation. Plus, some extra vitamin A to increase the production of healthy tears.

11. Smoking

Smoking has many negative effects on your health, and your eyes are no exception. If you smoke or are exposed to secondhand smoke, your risk of dry eyes goes up according to a 2022 study.

The toxins in tobacco smoke can damage your tear glands, leading to reduced tear production. They can also affect the balance of water, oils, and mucus in your tear film. To say nothing of the irritants that may cause inflammation.

12. Eye Makeup

What is a risk factor for dry eye disease you may not have considered earlier? Eye makeup. Yes, a bit of mascara and some eyeshadow may enhance your eyes. But they can block your oil-producing glands and lead to evaporative dry eyes.

woman with red lips and eyeshadow applying makeup to her eyes

That’s not all. Makeup particles can also get in your eyes and trigger dry eye symptoms like excessive watering, irritation, and red eyes.

Tip: Check our tips for dry and sensitive eyes.

13. Overusing Eye Drops

Eye drops are a quick fix to relieve dryness. But can eye drops cause dry eyes in the long run? Unfortunately, yes. If you exceed the recommended dose or regard them as a cure for dry eyes, you might be worsening your condition.

Eye drops can sometimes lead to a phenomenon called rebound effect. Your eyes become reliant on the eye drops for lubrication. As a result, they produce even fewer natural tears, exacerbating dryness when the drops are not used.

What’s more, eye drops with preservatives can cause an allergic reaction, leading to increased dryness, redness, and irritation.

The Wrap Up

Dry eyes is a common condition that comes with several uncomfortable and painful symptoms. You may have dry, sore, red, and inflamed eyes that water excessively.

But you don’t have to accept it as unavoidable. Steer clear of what can cause dry eyes and discomfort.

Wear protective sunglasses while outdoors, avoid using makeup around your eyes, and switch from contacts to eyeglasses. You can also keep your screen time in check, eat a balanced diet, and quit smoking.

That said, you can’t help it if fluctuating hormones, medications, and systemic diseases are triggering your dry eyes.

Sometimes, dry eye signs and symptoms may creep on you subtly. Don’t wait until they worsen to do something about them.

Finding whether you have dry eyes is the first step to managing the condition. A quick online test can help.

Take the Dry Eye Test

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