Feeling your eyes dry and gritty, like there are specks of dust in them you can’t blink away? Convenience may make you reach for the bottle with eye drops for dry eyes. But before you do that, it’s important to understand all the dry eye treatment options available.

The most effective dry eye syndrome treatment depends on what’s causing your dry eyes in the first place. Resorting to the wrong treatment could only make your symptoms worse in the long run.

Today, we take a closer look at the pros and cons of dry eye treatments. But first, here’s a quick reminder of what dry eye syndrome is and what causes it.

Dry Eye Disease Symptoms and Causes

Dry eye disease occurs when there’s an imbalance in the tear film that normally covers the surface of the eye, lubricating and protecting it. Common symptoms of dry eye disease include scratchy or gritty eyes, eye fatigue, soreness, burning, redness, blurriness, light sensitivity, and tearing.

The tear film consists of a watery component, an oily component, and a mucin component. Most dry eye cases are a form of evaporative dry eye, which occurs when the oily part of the tears is insufficient or of low quality. By contrast, aqueous dry eye occurs when your eyes don’t produce enough of the watery part of tears.

woman looking up with face in the sun against blurry lake background

Everyone may have dry eyes now and then. But when symptoms occur constantly or last for weeks or longer, it can be a sign that you have developed dry eye syndrome.

Dry eye causes range from environmental factors like wind, air conditioning, and extended screen use to aging. Hormones, medication, certain diseases, eye surgery, and nutritional deficiencies may also lead to dry eyes.

Getting an accurate dry eye syndrome diagnosis is crucial to receiving the proper treatment for dry eye disease.

Tip: You can learn more about dry eye disease and its causes in our post on What Are Dry Eyes?

Advantages and Disadvantages of Dry Eye Syndrome Treatments

Dry eye disease treatments include eye drops, oral medication, punctal plugs, thermal cautery, and dry eye supplements.

Some dry eye disease treatments often focus on alleviating symptoms rather than addressing the underlying cause of the condition. This is important to understand in order to manage expectations.

Next, let’s review the pros and cons of the most common dry eye treatments currently available.

Eye Drops for Dry Eyes

Eye drops for dry eyes are also known as artificial tears, and for good reason. They are formulated to mimic the way natural tears work in lubricating the eye.

However, eye drops may have preservatives like benzalkonium chloride (BAK) to extend their shelf life. Long-term use of dry eye drops with preservatives can worsen dry eye symptoms.

Eye drops are not a dry eye syndrome cure – they only address the symptoms of the condition. Other treatments may prove more effective in the long run.


  • Convenient and readily available
  • Can provide quick relief
  • Easy to use
  • Often inexpensive


  • Could make dry eyes worse over time
  • Can cause blurriness and irritation that interferes with driving and other activities
  • Not always easy to apply at work or on the go while maintaining eye hygiene
  • May contain preservatives

Good to know: One potential severe dry eye syndrome treatment is autologous blood serum drops. These drops are made from your own blood and mixed with a salt solution. Your eyes may tolerate them better than artificial tears.

Topical Ointments

Ointments for dry eyes come in a greasy, semisolid form that melts in contact with your eye. These ointments typically cling to the surface of your eye to soothe symptoms, remaining between it and the eyelid for a while.


  • Work faster than oral medication
  • Longer lasting effects than eye drops


  • Cause blurriness and other sensations
  • Require careful application and good hygiene
  • Inconvenient for use at work or on the go

Good to know: We wrote a post on the differences between eye drops vs eye ointments if you're not sure which to use.

Nasal Spray

Varenicline is a nasal spray recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration. This new treatment for dry eye syndrome works by stimulating natural tear production. Clinical research suggests that varenicline can quickly improve dry eye disease symptoms.

woman with glasses and red hair using nasal spray against blurred background


  • Easy to use
  • Free from preservatives
  • Provides fast relief


  • May temporarily reduce visual acuity
  • Some patients experience eye redness
  • May also cause sneezing, coughing, and throat and nose irritation

Warm Compress and Eye Masks

This dry eye disease treatment option applies gentle heat to your eyelids to unclog the oil glands. When dry eyes is the result of problems with the oily component of the tear film, warm compresses may help.


  • Convenient home remedy
  • Can provide quick relief
  • Inexpensive and relaxing


  • Application usually limited to the home or hotel room
  • Requires time and a convenient setting
  • Some patients respond better to this treatment than others

Eye Inserts

Eye inserts look like tiny transparent rods that you insert between your eye and lower eyelid. They dissolve slowly to release hydroxypropyl cellulose, a substance that is soluble in water and provides artificial tears which may relieve dryness and irritation.

Eye doctors may prescribe eye inserts as an alternative to tear drops for more serious dry eye cases.


  • Free from preservatives
  • Fast acting
  • May work better than eye drops for some people


  • Requires careful application
  • May be inconvenient to use at work or while traveling
  • May cause blurred vision, eye redness and discomfort, light sensitivity, tearing, swelling of the eyelids, and other side effects

Oral Medication

When it comes to dry eye treatment, medication is also available. Medication for dry eyes can come in the form of tear-stimulating cholinergics.

Eye doctors also prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs to help manage inflammation caused by Sjogren’s syndrome and other autoimmune conditions that can lead to dry eyes. Medication for dry eyes is sometimes necessary when dry eyes is the result of an inflammatory disease or tear gland infection.

man holding dry eye pill in open palm and glass with water in other hand


  • Can address the underlying cause behind the condition
  • Easy to take


  • May cause a variety of side effects affecting the eyes and rest of the body
  • Doesn’t immediately improve symptoms like other treatments

Punctal Plugs

Punctal plugs are tiny plugs made from silicone or collagen that can partially or completely close your tear ducts to prevent tears from draining.

Eye doctors may recommend punctal plugs to treat chronic dry eye disease in patients for whom other treatments prove ineffective. Inserting these plugs is a non-invasive procedure performed by a doctor.


  • May provide relief when other treatments fail
  • Can feel liberating for patients who had to rely on eye drops


  • May increase the risk of inflammation and bacterial infections
  • May cause epiphora or excessive tearing
  • May feel uncomfortable
  • Require careful application
  • Inconvenient at times
  • Not suitable for all types of dry eye disease, such as that caused by meibomian gland dysfunction

Thermal Cautery

Thermal cautery is another established chronic dry eye syndrome treatment. During this procedure, heat is applied to your tear ducts to permanently close them. Your doctor may recommend this minimally invasive dry eye operation if punctal plugs don’t work.

woman lying down in doctor's office about to undergo eye procedure


  • Can be more effective than punctal plugs
  • Long-lasting solution


  • You may experience initial pain and swelling
  • May cause excessive tearing
  • Not recommended for inflammatory dry eyes

Intense Pulsed Light Therapy (IPL)

IPL is a dry eye disease treatment for people with meibomian gland dysfunction backed by science. With this treatment, pulses of light safely destroy vascular structures in the eyelid to improve gland function. Multiple treatment options may be needed.


  • Effective at improving dry eyes caused by meibomian gland dysfunction
  • Long-term solution for patients with severe symptoms


  • Not for all types of dry eyes
  • More expensive than other treatments


The LipiFlow Thermal Pulsation System is an FDA-approved treatment for meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD). Some medical literature suggests that as many as 86% of patients with dry eyes show signs of MGD.

During LipiFlow, an external device is applied to your eyes. This device sends gentle heat to your inner and outer eyelids while also massaging them. By doing so, it clears blocked glands to increase the oily component of the tear film.


  • Can be very effective for patients with MGD-caused dry eye
  • Improvements can last 6 months or longer


  • May not work for patients with severe dry eyes
  • Can cause side effects like burning, redness, blurred vision, and light sensitivity
  • More expensive than other treatments


TearCare is another thermal therapy for MGD that may provide relief from dry eye symptoms. During this procedure, single-use adhesive pads are applied to your eyelids.

These are controlled by software to provide heat therapy while you blink naturally. The heat therapy can melt away blockages in the meibomian glands to improve tear quality.

Some research suggests that TearCare can be more effective than other treatments for patients with severe MGD.


  • Provides significant relief in some patients after one treatment
  • Takes only around 30 minutes per session
  • Requires fewer follow-ups than other procedures


  • Requires manual massaging of the meibomian glands
  • Less widely available than other treatments
  • More expensive than other treatments

Dry Eyes Supplements

Nutrient deficiencies may lead to dry eye symptoms or worsen existing dry eyes. Vitamins A, C, D, E, B1, and B12, omega-3 fatty acids, and antioxidants like lutein and zeaxanthin play a key role in supporting eye health.

An eye health supplement can help provide some of these nutrients. Even when the underlying cause of dry eye isn’t a nutrient deficiency, a supplement can support other dry eye treatments.


  • Supports eye health in the long run
  • No side effects
  • Can boost overall health
  • Natural option


  • You have to take them regularly to see results

SightC is a superfood blend formulated to maintain eye health in the digital age. Packed with antioxidants and other nutrients from goji berries, turmeric, Cherokee rose and other superfoods, SightC can help nourish and protect your eyes.

Learn more about SightC.

The Wrap Up

In the end, each dry eye syndrome treatment has its advantages and disadvantages. That’s why it’s crucial to understand what causes your dry eyes and follow the most appropriate treatment.

To manage the condition effectively, dry eyes symptoms and treatment need to be in sync. Some dry eye patients will require more intense and more varied treatments than others.

With that in mind, certain dry eye treatments like applying a warm compress or taking a natural eye health supplement can help support any treatment your doctor may prescribe without the risk of side effects.

A holistic approach to treating dry eye disease that goes beyond using eye drops can help you safeguard your vision and keep your eyes healthy for years to come. It all starts with understanding your condition and what causes it.


Victoria Addington said:

I appreciate that you mentioned that while eye drops won’t heal dry eyes, they can help with its symptoms. It is convenient and easily accessible, as you indicated, and it can offer immediate relief. I will absolutely let my friends and family know about this so they will know what to do if they come across this. If necessary, I’ll also look into experts they can consult about it.


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