Dry eye at any age comes with uncomfortable symptoms like stinging, gritty, and watery eyes. But these symptoms can be more pronounced as you age.

Hormonal changes, eye surgeries, diseases, and the use of medication are generally to blame. These affect both the production and the composition of tears. As a result, many people suffer from dry eyes as they get older.

Read on to discover why your eyes get dry with age. We’ll also cover dry eye old age symptoms and treatment methods. Because even though dry eye is prevalent, it doesn’t mean you have to put up with the symptoms.

Does Age Cause Dry Eye?

In a word, yes. Age-related dry eye increases in both men and women after the age of 50. So, how do eyes change with age?

  • Lacrimal gland changes: The lacrimal glands located over the eyes may suffer from atrophy, fibrosis, and other changes that reduce the volume of lubricating tears they produce.
  • Hormonal changes: As you age, your body goes through several hormonal changes that affect tear production. This is true for both women going through menopause as well as men.
  • Medical conditions: Another reason why dry eye gets worse with age is because the mucous membranes of your eyes dry out more and more. Also, common age-related diseases like diabetes or rheumatism can affect your vision. These may also decrease tear composition and production.
  • Medications: Certain medications can also trigger dry eyes as a side effect. These include antihistamines, decongestants, antidepressants, and drugs for high blood pressure and Parkinson’s disease.
  • Nutrient deficiency: Older people are more likely to suffer from a lack of appetite. This can cause a deficiency of nutrients needed for tear film production. Dehydration and forgetfulness to drink water can also cause dryness in the eye.
  • Eye surgeries: Cataracts, which have a high prevalence rate in people over 50, are often treated through surgery. It’s common to develop dry eye after cataract surgery. Forty-two percent of patients who underwent surgery for cataracts developed dry eye symptoms according to a 2019 study. But the symptoms are temporary and improve about a month after surgery.

Symptoms of Dry Eyes in Older Adults

Dry eye symptoms in older adults are not much different from those in younger people.

But the intensity of the symptoms, including grittiness and tearing, might be more pronounced. This occurs because tear deficiencies in older people can be more severe.

old woman with a hat and eye glasses sitting on a park bench reading with walking cane leaning on her leg

Here are some common dry eye symptoms you may experience as you age.

  • Stinging or burning sensation in the eye
  • Dry, scratchy, sore, and gritty eyes, as if there is sand in them
  • Mucus in or around the eyes
  • Sensitivity to smoke, wind, dry air
  •  Redness in the eye and irritation
  • Constant eye fatigue
  • Excessive tearing and watering of eyes
  •  Blurred or double vision, especially by the end of the day
  • Discomfort while wearing contact lenses
  • Sensitivity to bright light
  • Difficulty keeping your eyes open
  • Eyelids sticking together when you wake up

Treating Age-Related Dry Eye

Dry eye old age symptoms can be annoying and uncomfortable. But you don’t have to quietly endure these symptoms.

There are several treatment methods you can try, from using wetting drops to making dietary changes.

Apply Warm Compresses

Applying a warm compress is a great way to treat dry eyes in older adults. The compress will help clear blocked oil glands and reduce inflammation.

You can simply place a warm, damp cloth over your eyelids for a few minutes. Remove it, reheat it, and repeat the process for 10 minutes.

Make sure that the cloth is clean and that the water is not too hot. You don’t want to apply to much pressure on your eyes, either.

Eat Healthy

A holistic approach to treating age-related dry eye is eating a diet rich in vitamins and antioxidants. This will increase the production of healthy, protein-rich tears.

Add vitamin A and omega-3 fatty acids to your diet. You can get these from leafy greens, colourful fruits and vegetables, seeds, and nuts.

blurry person seen from over the shoulder eating from white plate salad and vegetables

Beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin are also important for maintaining eye health. If you don’t get enough of them through your diet, consider taking an eye health supplement.

Use Eye Drops

Eye drops and gels for dry eyes don’t treat the underlying causes of the condition. In some cases, eye drops can even make dry eyes worse.

But they can provide quick comfort. They can lubricate the surface of your eye and reduce that gritty, scratchy feeling.

You can get over-the-counter eye drops from your local drug store. Or ask your eye doctor to prescribe eye drops for your specific condition.

Looking for eye drops without preservatives, as these may make dry eye symptoms worse.

Take Medications

Certain prescription drugs can also help treat dry eyes. These will reduce eyelid inflammation and keep your oil ducts healthy. Your eye doctor may prescribe them if needed after a complete eye exam.

You can also take tear-stimulating medications to increase the production of healthy tears. And use punctal plugs that help reduce tear loss. Discuss these options with your eye health specialist. 

Make Lifestyle Changes

Certain habits can be hard to get rid of, especially at an older age. But making certain changes in your everyday life can help relieve dry eye symptoms.

Start by reducing your screen time, including viewing the TV at night. Wear sunglasses when you step outdoors and avoiding air-conditioned areas.

More importantly, quit smoking and you will experience a great improvement in the comfort and moisture level in your eyes.

The Wrap Up

It’s common to develop dry eye syndrome as you age. There are several age-related dry eye causes, including hormonal changes, eye surgeries, medical conditions, and the medications you take.

You cannot control some of these causes. But the good news is that you can effectively reduce age-related dry eye symptoms.

Eating healthy and living healthy are important for managing dry eyes. Alongside quicker fixes like warm compresses, eye drops, and medication, healthy lifestyle choices can help reduce the severity of symptoms.

Are you experiencing dry eye symptoms? Our quick online test can help you find out whether you may have the condition.

Take the Dry Eye Test now.

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