Are your eyes dry, gritty, and irritated, especially when stepping outdoors? Chances are you have a condition called evaporative dry eye (EDE).

EDE is a common type of dry eye syndrome. It occurs when your tears evaporate more quickly than they are replenished. Blame poor quality tears lacking in healthy oils.

While EDE symptoms initially start off as mild, you need to check them on time. If your neglect them, they can disrupt your quality of life and cause ulcers and scars on your cornea.

Find out why and how EDE happens and discover its common symptoms, causes, risk factors, and treatments.

Evaporative Dry Eye Explained

For a better understanding of evaporative dry eye, it helps to understand how the tear film works. In simple words, your tear film is a mixture of three layers: water, oil, and mucus.

The water layer helps lubricate your eyes, wash away dirt, and prevent infections. The oily layer keeps your tears from evaporating too quickly. And finally, the mucus layer makes the tears stick to the surface of your eye.

Together, these three layers work to keep your eyes healthy and well-lubricated. That means an imbalance in any of these layers can lead to dry eye syndrome.

The meibomian glands in the upper and lower eyelids secrete the oily component of your tear film. If these glands don’t work as they should, they may not make sufficient oil. Or the oil may be of poor quality.

When that happens, you are left with a thinner and less stable tear film that dries out too fast, leading to evaporative dry eye.

closeup of human eye with long eyelashes looking out to the side

In other words, you will have dry and sandy eyes all day. But your symptoms will be more pronounced when you’re exposed to dry air and wind.

There are two main reasons for meibomian gland dysfunction: blockage and inflammation. Anything from infrequent blinking to allergies, eyelid injury, and medications can lead to either of these and increase your risk of EDE.

Aqueous vs Evaporative Dry Eye

There are two types of dry eye: aqueous and evaporative. While both these types of dry eye syndrome make your eyes feel sore and gritty, their underlying causes differ.

Aqueous deficient dry eye occurs when your tear film is lacking in the watery layer. Your lacrimal (tear) glands are mostly to blame. They don’t make enough tears to keep your eyes moist.

Age, smoking, and Sjogren’s syndrome increase your risk of aqueous dry eye. The condition is not very common though, and accounts for only 10% of dry eye cases.

On the other hand, evaporative dry eye disease occurs when your tear film is lacking in the oily or lipid layer. As discussed above, meibomian gland dysfunction is the root cause of this condition.

When it comes to evaporative dry eye prevalence, the condition is far more common than aqueous tear deficiency. It makes for over 85% of dry eye cases.

Evaporative Dry Eye Symptoms

Evaporative dry eye tends to come with symptoms similar to those in dry eye syndrome. You will experience discomfort and irritation in your eyes. Other symptoms may include:

  • Eye dryness that worsens at night
  • Sensitivity to wind
  • Grittiness or a foreign body sensation
  • Redness and inflammation
  • Sore, stinging, or itching eyes
  • Blurred vision that comes and goes
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Inability to wear contact lenses
  • Eye fatigue, particularly after prolonged screen time
  • Sticky eye discharge
  • Crusty layers around the eyes
  • Discolored, swollen, or inflamed eyelids

Be wary of these symptoms when you first experience them. If left unchecked, these can become more severe, forming ulcers and scars on your cornea.

Evaporative Dry Eye Causes

When it comes to evaporative dry eye, meibomian gland dysfunction is the root cause of all your troubles. The glands become blocked or inflamed and stop functioning as they should.

As a result, your tear film has insufficient oils and evaporates too quickly. All you’re left with are painful and uncomfortable symptoms that can make work at home and in the office difficult.

half-closed eye in bright light looking down

Meibomian gland dysfunction can have several causes. Medications, autoimmune diseases, and allergies can block or inflame the glands, affecting their normal functioning.

  • Infrequent blinking: Blinking washes away germs and dirt in your eyes and eyelids. But certain activities, like working on a computer, can reduce your blink rate. This results in the accumulation of debris that may clog your meibomian glands and cause EDE.
  • Skin conditions: Skin issues, such as rosacea, face dermatitis, and psoriasis, can cause inflammation and crusting along the edges of your eyelids. This can lead to EDE by interfering with the functioning of your meibomian glands.
  • Medications: Certain drugs, such as antihistamines, antidepressants, and decongestants can also cause EDE. Research shows that these may interfere with your tear film, change the composition of oils, and increase the chances of meibomian gland blockages.
  • Allergies: Allergies can trigger inflammation in the eyes and oil glands. This leads to an unstable tear film and increases tear evaporation.
  • Eye injury: Any trauma to your eyes or eyelids can damage your oil-producing glands. This can decrease the quality and quantity of the oils in your tear film, leading to increased tear evaporation.
  • Autoimmune conditions: Diseases such as Sjögren’s syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus attack your meibomian glands. They can lead to a sudden inflammation of the glands, disrupting your tear film’s oil content.
  • Eyelid surgery: Surgeries on the eyelids, like blepharoplasty or ptosis repair, can also cause evaporative dry eye. These surgeries may sometimes damage your meibomian glands and other ocular structures that help produce and distribute the tear film.
  • Contact lens wear: Wearing contact lenses for extended periods can interfere with the normal functioning of your meibomian glands. This can affect both the quality and quantity of the oils in your tear film.
  • Eye makeup: Makeup products applied around the eyes, including mascara and eyeliner, can block your meibomian glands. With time, debris buildup due to these products can result in EDE. That doesn't mean you have to give up makeup, though. Check our makeup tips for dry and sensitive eyes.

Risk Factors for Evaporative Dry Eye

Evaporative dry eye can happen to anyone. But certain risk factors can increase your chance of developing the condition.

It's normal for tear quality and quantity to decrease with age. Because of this, older people are more likely to develop EDE.

There is also a hormonal element to the condition. Evaporative dry eye affects women more than men.

If your diet is lacking in healthy levels of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins A and D, you have a higher risk of EDE. That’s because your tears need enough nutrients to function properly. In addition, proper hydration also ensures a healthier tear film.

black silhouette of a man drinking water at the beach from a plastic bottle he holds above his head in the sun

External factors, such as exposure to dry, windy, and polluted areas, can also trigger tear evaporation and leave your eyes feeling dry and uncomfortable. Hairdryers and air-cons also add to the list.

Your evaporative dry eye syndrome may suddenly peak during the allergy season. Pollen, dust mites, and pet dander can inflame your oil glands and trigger dryness.

Evaporative Dry Eye Diagnosis

If your EDE symptoms last more than a few days, consult your eye doctor. They will be able to diagnose your condition and offer you the best treatment plan.

During the diagnosis, your doctor will conduct one or more of these tests to measure your tear quality and volume.

  • Schirmer’s test: This test measures your tear volume. Your doctor will place special strips under your lower lids. They will use these to assess the amount of moisture absorbed in five minutes.
  • Eye staining: In this, dyed eye drops are used to see the surface of your eyes and measure how quickly your tears evaporate.
  • Slit lamp: A slit lamp is basically a magnifying device with a strong light source. Your doctor will use it to examine the surface of your eyes. Any irregularities could mean a blockage in your oil glands.

Managing Evaporative Dry Eye

Whether your EDE symptoms are mild or severe, proper management is key to healthier, happier eyes.

You can begin with some at-home remedies, like warm compresses, eyelid massages, and lid scrubs. These will help remove any crusty layers and decrease meibomian gland inflammation.

You can also opt for in-office evaporative dry eye treatment procedures. These may include Lipiflow and IPL treatments to unblock your oil glands and increase oil production.

An eye health supplement like SightC can also help provide your eyes with important nutrients. SightC is a natural superfood bend that provides your eyes with key antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and amino acids that may be lacking in the Western diet.

Rich in lutein, zeaxanthin, zinc, vitamins B1 and C, and omega-3 fatty acids, SightC can support and enhance vision in the digital age. Taken regularly, it can soothe dry eye symptoms and keep your eyes healthy for years to come.

Learn more about SightC.

What about eye drops? It may sound surprising, but eye drops could make evaporative dry eye worse.

OTC eyedrops contain preservatives that may irritate your eyes and lead to further complications. Talk with your doctor before taking any eye drops.

The Wrap Up

As a recap, evaporative dry eye is a common condition. In this, your tears are lacking in the oily layer and evaporate too quickly.

Sometimes, an underlying condition, like an autoimmune disease or allergy, may be to blame for your EDE. Other times, a poor diet or windy environment may be causing your eyes to dry out quickly.

Whatever the cause, there are several things you can do to prevent evaporative dry eye.

Start by blinking consciously while using digital devices. Add a humidifier to your room and stay away from artificial air. It also helps to wear protective eyeglasses while stepping outdoors.

Worried that you may have dry eyes? Our quick online test can help you find out. It takes only a few minutes.

Take the Dry Eye Test

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