close up of dry eye with redness in the corner

Early Signs of Dry Eye Syndrome (Updated 2023)

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When your tear glands don’t produce enough tears, or when these tears evaporate too quickly, you may develop dry eyes.

Your tear glands produce two types of tears. One type of tears lubricates, nourishes, and protects the surface of your eye. It forms the tear film that should normally cover your eye all the time, even when you sleep. The other type of tear flushes out dust and debris.

Dry eye syndrome (DED) occurs when the tear film doesn’t work as it should. It causes a variety of symptoms. Recognizing dry eye syndrome early helps you take treatment and make lifestyle choices to alleviate symptoms.

So, what are the early signs of dry eye you should watch out for?

Early Signs of Dry Eye

Sometimes, the line between the early signs of dry eye and dry eye symptoms is blurry. That’s because people can experience dry eyes differently.

Some people may have only a few symptoms, while others may experience a wide range of symptoms. That said, here are some of the common early signs of dry eye you should pay attention to.

Note: Dry eye syndrome can affect both eyes or only one eye. So it's not unusual to experience some symptoms in one eye only.
  • Dryness or sandy eyes – Dryness is the characteristic symptom of dry eyes in most people. You may experience dryness whether your dry eye is the result of tear glands not working properly or tear film imbalances leading to tears evaporating too quickly. Your eyes may feel dry in the morning, at night, or throughout the day. They may feel especially dry when you work at a computer as this reduces your blink rate and leads to more incomplete blinks.
  • Redness – Many eye conditions can cause redness including conjunctivitis and allergy. So can overwearing contact lenses. When redness is the result of dry eyes, it usually comes alongside dryness and other symptoms on this list.
  • Stinging – Normally, the tear film covers the surface of your eye, lubricating it. However, dry eyes can expose the eye surface to air and dust particles. This causes stinging.
  • Burning – Dry eyes prevents the conjunctiva that covers the white of the eye and inner eyelid from being properly lubricated. It can lead to a burning sensation or soreness.
  • Itching or scratching eyes – Feel the need to constantly rub your eyes? One of the functions of the tear film is to wash away dust and debris from your eyes. It also soothes the ocular surface. Without enough lubricating tears, your eyes may experience scratchiness and itching.
  • Mucus in or near the eye – Small amounts of mucus in the eyes or around them can be the result of deficiencies in the lipid (meibum) or watery (aqueous) component of the tear film. Bear in mind that large amounts of mucus can be a sign of an underlying infection.
  • Sensitivity to wind, smoke, perfume, or cooking fumes – Insufficient tear production or an inadequate tear film leaves nerve endings in the eye exposed. Dust particles from the wind or molecules from smoke, perfume, or cooking fumes can touch the nerve endings and linger on the eye, causing sensitivity.
  • Light sensitivity – An important role of the tear film is to protect the nerve endings on the surface of your eye from irritation caused by light. Dry eyes syndrome can leave these exposed. It can also make it harder for your cornea at the front of the eye to focus light, resulting in sensitivity to light, a condition known as photophobia. Photophobia may also cause eye pain.
bright airplane window with man with glasses reclining on his chair in darkness
  • Fatigue or pain when driving or focusing your eyes – When you drive, read, use a screen, or do close work with your eyes, you keep your eyes open for longer. Your blink rate drops, and the tear film doesn’t spread over the surface of your eye as it should. As a result, you may experience eye fatigue and pain. The pain may range in intensity from mild to strong. When related to dry eye symptoms, headache may also occur because your eyes have difficulties focusing. It can be a sign of more advanced dry eye syndrome.
  • Discomfort using contact lenses – For contact lenses to correct your vision, the surface of your eye needs to be moist. If it’s drier than normal, you will experience an unpleasant sensation when wearing contacts. This sensation will often worsen the longer you use them.
  • Watery eyes – It may seem like a contradiction, but watery eyes can be a sign of dry eyes. As we’ve seen, in addition to the tear film, tear glands secrete another type of tears that flushes out foreign particles and debris. Your tear glands may secrete these in response to irritation.

What about blurriness? When it comes to dry eye symptoms, blurred vision may also occur, but typically only after symptoms like dryness worsen.

The intensity and duration of dry eye symptoms and signs can vary depending on the severity of the condition.

They may come and go and fluctuate depending on your diet, screen time, how much sleep your get, and other factors.

Can You Have Dry Eye Syndrome Without Realizing It?

Yes, you can. DED is underdiagnosed because its early signs and symptoms are mild and easy to neglect. What's more, the condition shares symptoms with other eye diseases.

2020 study suggests that half of office workers may have dry eye disease. DED can significantly affect workplace productivity. A 2022 study indicates that students also have a high risk of experiencing dry eye symptoms.

Many people who experience the early signs of the condition may not see an eye doctor until these symptoms worsen. What's more, family doctors may not always spot the condition in an early stage.

But that doesn't meant you have to put up with DED symptoms until they become so bad you need to see an eye doctor.

The first step is to understand whether you're at risk of developing the condition.

Let's take a closer look at the major risk factors of dry eye disease.

Are You at Risk of Dry Eyes?

Some people are more likely to develop dry eyes syndrome than others. Risk factors include:

  • Age: Tear production decreases with age, which is why dry eyes syndrome is most common in people over 50. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, 4.88 million Americans over 50 have the condition.
  • Gender: Women are more likely to develop dry eyes. According to the same source mentioned above, almost twice as many women over 50 have the condition compared to men in the same age group.
  • Diet: Vitamin A deficiency and other nutrient deficiencies may contribute to more severe dry eye symptoms.
  • Diabetes: Type 2 diabetes has been linked to reduced tear production.
  • Autoimmune diseases: Several autoimmune diseases are associated with dry eyes syndrome including rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and Sjogren's.
  • Medication: Many medications can contribute to dry eyes, including anti-allergy medication (antihistamines), birth control pills, medication for high blood pressure, birth control pills, and certain antidepressants and painkillers.
  • Wearing contact lenses: Contact lenses may dry the surface of the eye, especially if you use them for long periods or leave them on at night. With that in mind, you can manage dry eyes while wearing contacts.
  • Environmental factors: Dry environments and being exposed to wind or smoke can lead to dry eyes.
  • Eye surgery: LASIK and other eye surgeries may cause dry eyes. But the symptoms typically go away with time. We've written an entire post on dry eye after eye surgery.
  • Screen use: Working on a computer or using screens for hours every day can decrease your blink rate and lead to dry eyes.

hands of seated people buttoning phones blurry image

How Blueberry Gummies Can Help

Early diagnosis and intervention can help treat the initial symptoms of dry eyes syndrome and prevent the condition from worsening. Left untreated, DED may cause frequent discomfort that can seriously interfere with your work and family life.

It may make driving, reading, and other everyday activities more difficult. It may cause inflammation and corneal damage that can permanently affect your vision.

The good news is that early intervention for dry eye syndrome is possible. And it tastes delicious!

The Blueberry Gummies from Sightsage are a natural and safe supplement for people with dry eyes. You can simply add them to your daily self-care routine.

Blueberry Gummies are made with Canadian freeze-dried blueberries. They are rich in antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins that your eyes need to stay healthy.

Blueberries have the antioxidant Pterostilbene, which a 2016 study found can protect against dry eyes.

They also have anthocyanins, which shield the retina from oxidative stress, can reduce eye fatigue, and support healthy blood circulation to the eye.

Blueberries may also decrease the risk of cataracts and the risk of age-related macular degeneration. And since our gummies are sweetened with monk fruit extract, they are sugar-free.

Blueberry Gummies are ideal for:

  • Soothing dry and tired eyes.
  • Replenishing your eyes during extended periods of screen use, reading, or study.
  • Treating dry eyes when you have diabetes (since monk fruit doesn't raise blood sugar levels).
  • Feeding your eyes antioxidants you may not get through your diet.

Happy Eyes, Happy Life

If you experience one or more of the early signs and symptoms of dry eye syndrome, it’s good to get your eyes tested.

Depending on the underlying cause of your dry eyes, you may be able to cure the condition. But even if your condition becomes chronic, you can still manage it effectively and prevent it from getting in the way of everyday life.

Our quick and easy online test takes only a few minutes. Just answer a few key questions to find out whether you may have dry eyes syndrome.

Millions of North Americans suffer from dry eyes. Are you one of them? Consider visiting your eye doctor. But first, test your eyes.

Take the Dry Eye Test now.

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