Eye dryness is generally temporary and resolves on its own in a matter of weeks. But it can also be an indication of some underlying condition and turn chronic in nature.

Both temporary and chronic dry eyes come with similar symptoms, such as gritty and sore eyes. But while temporary dry eye is caused by temporary factors like dry air and dust, chronic dry eye is caused by severe factors, like autoimmune diseases and nutrient deficiencies.

Since both conditions have varied causes, their treatment approaches are different too. Let’s delve deeper into the symptoms, causes and treatments for chronic vs. temporary dry eyes.

Temporary Dry Eye vs. Chronic Dry Eye Explained

Tears are essential for lubricating and protecting your eyes. But when you have insufficient or poor quality tears, you experience a condition known as dry eye syndrome.

In this, your eyes feel dry, red, irritated, and sensitive to light. You may also have difficulty focusing on tasks, like reading, driving, and working on a computer for long hours.

Don’t worry, this condition is extremely common worldwide, with its prevalence ranging from 5% to 50%. 

What’s more, dry eye syndrome can be classified into two categories: temporary dry eye and chronic dry eye.

What Is Temporary Dry Eyes?

Temporary dry eye, also known as episodic dry eye, is a short-term problem that is easy to resolve. It occurs when your eyes temporarily stop producing enough tears.

Blame external factors, such as exposure to wind, dust, and smoke for this condition. Even excessive screen time or overuse of contact lenses can trigger dryness.

While temporary dry eyes can be uncomfortable and cause irritation, you needn’t worry about it. It does not cause any long-term damage to your eyes and clears up in a matter of weeks.

What Is Chronic Dry Eye?

Chronic dry eye, on the other hand, is a completely different story. Also known as persistent dry eye, it’s a long-term condition that doesn’t go away easily.

It’s caused by a variety of factors, including aging, certain medications, autoimmune disorders, and hormonal issues. In this, you experience symptoms similar to those in temporary dry eyes. But they tend to be more severe and painful.

 closeup of human eye black and white

In addition to causing discomfort and irritation, chronic dry eye can also increase your risk of certain complications. These include:

  • Corneal damage: Chronic dry eye can damage your cornea, the clear, outer layer of the eye. Without enough tears for lubrication, the cornea can get scarred and even ulcerated, potentially leading to vision problems.
  • Eye infections: Tears protect your eyes from infection by washing away harmful bacteria. When tears are in short supply, your eyes become more susceptible to infections.
  • Inflammation: Chronic dry eye can also lead to inflammation of the tear glands, cornea, and conjunctiva (outermost layers of your eyes).
  • Eye injuries: Tears lubricate your eyes and protect them from dust and foreign particles. Lack of tears can make your eyes more vulnerable to injury.
  • Vision loss: If left untreated, chronic dry eye can lead to vision problems. In severe cases, it can even cause blurry, reduced vision.

Symptoms of Temporary Dry Eye vs. Chronic Dry Eye

The symptoms of chronic dry eye and temporary dry eyes can be similar. You will have dry, sandy, and irritated eyes in both. But the conditions differ in their severity and duration.

Chronic Dry Eye Symptoms

Chronic dry eye comes with a range of symptoms, from mild to severe. Be on the lookout for these to prevent long-term damage to your eyes.

  • Persistent dryness
  • Sandy or gritty sensation in the eyes
  • Burning eyes
  • Blurry or reduced vision
  • Eye inflammation
  • Extreme sensitivity to light
  • Constant eye fatigue or discomfort
  • Discomfort when wearing contact lenses
  • Excessive tearing

Temporary Dry Eye Symptoms

You will experience temporary eye dryness symptoms for a short period. These are usually milder than chronic dry eye symptoms and resolve on their own once you fix the underlying triggers.

  • Occasional dryness or irritation in the eyes
  • Red, itchy, irritated eyes
  • Occasional eye pain
  • Watery eyes
  • Blurry vision
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Eye fatigue while reading, watching TV, or using a computer

woman lying on the floor with her face up with old TVs stacked in the background

Causes of Temporary Dry Eye vs. Chronic Dry Eye

The causes of chronic dry eye and temporary dry eye differ. Temporary dryness is caused by temporary factors like exposure to wind, excessive screen time, and contact lens use.

Chronic dry eye is caused due to underlying issues, like autoimmune disorders and eyelid malfunction.

Temporary Dry Eye Causes

Anything from overuse of digital devices to exposure to dry wind and contact lens use can trigger temporary dry eyes.

  • Environmental factors: Exposure to dry air, wind, or air conditioning can cause temporary dry eye. These factors increase the rate of tear evaporation and leave your eyes feeling dry and gritty.
  • Screen time: When you focus on digital screens for extended periods, you blink less frequently. This reduces the amount of tears spread over the surface of your eye, leading to dryness.
  • Contact lens use: Contact lenses partially block oxygen from entering your eyes. They also absorb your tears to maintain their shape, leading to contact lens-induced dry eye.
  • Eye makeup: Eyeliner, mascara, and eyeshadow also cause temporary dry eyes. These products can block your tear and oil glands and affect the composition of your tear film.
  • Allergies: Allergic reactions from pet dander, pollen, dust mites, mold, and even perfume can trigger dry eye symptoms, like teary eyes and inflammation.
  • Eye surgery: Eye surgeries, such as LASIK or cataract surgery, can cause temporary dry eye as a side effect.
  • Medications: Certain medications, such as antihistamines, decongestants, and antidepressants, can cause temporary dry eye by reducing your tear production.
  • Menstrual cycle: You may experience temporary dry eyes during your monthly cycle. Blame the female hormone estrogen for this.

Chronic Dry Eye Causes

Certain underlying conditions, like autoimmune diseases, hormonal imbalance, and meibomian gland dysfunction are the main cause of chronic dry eye disease.

  • Aging: As you age, your eyes may produce fewer tears. This is because your tear glands become less efficient over time, leading to chronic dry eye.
  • Autoimmune diseases: Chronic dry eye syndrome is often associated with Sjogren's syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus. These autoimmune diseases attack your tear glands and reduce tear production.
  • Medical conditions: Certain medical conditions, like diabetes and thyroid disorders, can damage your blood vessels, leading to chronic dry eye.
  • Nutrient deficiency: Omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins A and E are essential for maintaining your eye health. A deficiency in any of these can lead to chronic dry eye.
  • Meibomian gland dysfunction: Meibomian glands produce the oily component of tears. This helps stabilize your tear film and prevent quick evaporation. Meibomian gland dysfunction can lead to chronic dry eye.
  • Hormonal imbalance: Imbalance in your levels of estrogen and progesterone can also lead to chronic dry eye.
  • Eyelid problems: Your eyelids play an important role in distributing the tear film over your eyes and keeping them moist. Conditions like blepharitis (inflamed eyelids) and eyelid malposition can interfere with tear distribution and cause chronic dryness.

Note: Chronic dry eye after LASIK and other eye surgeries generally resolve on its own. While prescription medications will help alleviate the symptoms, OTC eye drops with preservatives can make chronic dry eyes worse.

Treatment for Temporary Dry Eye vs. Chronic Dry Eye

The treatment for temporary dry eye and chronic dry eye differs depending on the cause and severity of the condition. That said, you may find yourself opting for a combination of these treatments to relieve your dry eye symptoms.

Temporary Dry Eye Treatment

Treatment for temporary dry eye involves fixing the trigger to relieve dryness. This can mean applying a warm compress, resting your eyes, and making environmental adjustments.

Try Warm Compresses

Applying a warm compress is a simple and effective treatment for temporary dry eyes. It will soothe your tear and oil glands, reduce inflammation, and improve tear production.

To apply the compress, soak a clean cloth in warm water. Squeeze it and place it over your eyes until it cools. Repeat the process twice a day to see results.

Rest Your Eyes

Taking a break from intense visual activities such as reading or computer work can reduce dryness and eye strain.

man closing his eyes smiling enjoying his time in nature

You can also try to blink intentionally while working for long hours. This will help spread tears over the surface of your eye. As a result, they will feel less fatigued and dry by the end of the day.

Tip: Check our tips on how to reduce computer eye strain.

Adjust the Environment

Increasing humidity levels in the room can also improve temporary eye dryness. For this, you can add moisture with a humidifier.

At the same time, avoid dry, polluted, and windy areas. Plus, stay away from hair dryers, eye makeup, and contact lenses, as these can trigger or worsen your dry eye symptoms.

Wear Protective Eyewear

Sunglasses, especially the wraparound kind, are a great treatment for temporary dry eye. They will protect your eyes from wind and dry air and keep dryness at bay.

If you spend a lot of time in front of the computer, you can also use computer glasses. These will reduce eye strain and dryness by filtering out blue light and cutting glare.

Chronic Dry Eye Treatment

The treatment for chronic dry eye is more extensive compared to temporary dry eye. While you can use warm compresses and reduce your screen time, you will also have to go a step ahead.

This involves a combination of approaches, such as scrubbing your lids, using punctal plugs, and opting for in-office procedures.

Scrub Your Eyelids

If the cause of your chronic dry eyes is meibomian gland dysfunction or blepharitis, eyelid scrubs can help with chronic dry eye relief. These will remove dried flakes, debris, and oil build-ups from your eyelid.

Soon, you will begin to see a difference in your chronic symptoms. Lid scrubs will reduce inflammation, remove excess oils, and improve the quality of your tear film.

Use Punctal Plugs

Punctal plugs are small devices that are inserted into your tear ducts. They block the drainage of tears from your eyes and help alleviate symptoms of severe chronic dry eye in one eye or both.

The plugs are made of silicone or collagen and come in different sizes and shapes. Plus, the procedure to insert punctal plugs is quick and painless and is one of the most effective chronic dry eye remedies.

Opt for In-Office Procedures

Depending on the severity and cause of your ocular dryness, you can opt for an in-office procedure to relieve dry eyes.

Several treatments, like LipiFlow, iLUX, and TearCare are available to fit your needs. The goal of each of these is to stimulate your oil glands, fix the underlying cause of dryness, and improve tear film stability.

Opt for Surgery

Surgery is generally not the first line of treatment for chronic dry eye. But if all the other treatment methods fail, your eye doctor may consider surgery to help alleviate your severe symptoms of dryness, inflammation, and vision problems.

Some of the surgical options for permanent dry eye syndrome include punctal cautery, salivary gland transplantation, and tarsorrhaphy.

Take Nutritional Supplements

If the cause of your chronic dry eyes is nutritional deficiency, try to improve your diet. Add foods containing omega-3 fats and vitamin A to your daily diet. You can also opt for nutritional supplements.

A supplement formulated for eye health can be especially effective. SightC is a goji berry superfood blend including turmeric, Cherokee rose, and other natural ingredients that work together to nourish your eyes and support eye health and vision in the digital age.

SightC provides essential vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and antioxidants including lutein, zeaxanthin, vitamin C, omega-3 fatty acids, and zinc.

The proprietary blend of ingredients in SightC has been informed by over 30 years of clinical experience and has been empirically trialed at the Wellspring TCM Technology Institute.

Keep your eyes healthy with SightC.

The Wrap Up

Temporary dry eye and chronic dry eye are similar as well as varied. They have the same symptoms, like dry, sandy, and irritated eyes. Yet they have different underlying causes and treatment approaches.

Temporary dry eyes lasts a short while and is generally the result of factors like your environment and habits. Chronic dry eyes doesn't go away.

It’s the result of more severe causes like hormonal imbalances, diseases, and meibomian gland dysfunction.

So, the first step to begin your dry eye treatment is to figure out its underlying cause.

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