How To Prevent Dry Eye

woman wearing sunglasses to prevent dry eye

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Dry eye—sometimes called dry eye syndrome or dry eye disease—is a condition that occurs when your eyes don’t produce enough quality tears to keep them properly moisturized and lubricated. The condition can cause frustrating symptoms such as itchiness, redness, and light sensitivity. If not treated accordingly, dry eye may lead to problems with your vision. 

According to the National Eye Institute, 16 million Americans experience dry eye. However, there are steps you can take to prevent dry eye—or reduce your symptoms if you already have a dry eye diagnosis—such as getting your eyes screened every year and making small lifestyle changes. 

Who Is Most at Risk?

There are two primary causes of dry eye: your eyes don’t make enough tears or your eyes don’t make tears of good quality. This can happen due to a variety of factors such as aging, taking certain medications, and having other health conditions.

While anyone can get dry eye, certain factors can increase your risk of developing symptoms, such as:

  • Age: People over the age of 50 are most likely to experience dry eye. As you age, your eyes have to work harder to produce good-quality tears. 
  • Sex: Those assigned female at birth experience this condition at higher rates than those assigned male at birth. Studies suggest that hormonal changes due to menstruation, pregnancy, oral contraceptive use, and menopause may raise the risk of dry eye. 
  • Genetics: Having a family history of dry eye can boost your chances of developing the condition yourself. One study that looked at elderly twin women found that monozygotic twins (those who share the exact same genes) had a higher rate of both twins experiencing dry eye than dizygotic twins (those who share 50% of their genes).
  • Medications: Dry eye can also arise as a side effect of certain medications. Allergy medications (antihistamines), decongestants, blood pressure medications (antihypertensives), and antidepressants can lower your tear production and quality.
  • Medical conditions: Having a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, and thyroid conditions can affect how many tears you’re able to produce. Other autoimmune conditions such as lupus or Sjögren’s syndrome can attack the cells that produce healthy tears by mistake, causing dry eye symptoms. 
  • Eye conditions: Other eye conditions can also lead to dry eye. Blepharitis (inflammation of the eyelids), keratitis (inflammation of the cornea), and pink eye can all increase your likelihood of experiencing dry eye symptoms. 
  • Environmental factors: Smoke, wind, and dry weather can raise your risk of dry eye because they can cause your tears to dry up too quickly. Additionally, too much screen time and wearing contact lenses can reduce how often you’re blinking, making it difficult to produce healthy tears. 

How to Reduce Risk 

Given how common dry eye is, it’s important to figure out ways to prevent and reduce the risk of developing this condition or reducing symptoms if you already have dry eye. You may consider trying one or more of the following preventative measures.

  • Getting screened and tested: One of the best ways to prevent dry eye and the complications of the condition is to regularly get your eyes tested, especially as you get older. If you’re able, it’s a good idea to visit an eye care specialist (such as an optometrist or ophthalmologist) yearly so they can perform a comprehensive eye exam. Common examinations for eyes include visual acuity (reading letters on a chart), keratometry (measures the curvature of your eyes), eye function tests (your ability to properly move and focus your eyes), and a slit lamp test, Schirmer’s test, or tear break up time tests (all of which assess the quality and quantity of your tears).
  • Changing medications: Because dry eye can be a side effect of certain medications, you may consider talking to your healthcare provider about changing a prescription that may be causing dry eye symptoms. Remember: don’t stop taking prescription medicine or change your medication without the approval or recommendation of your healthcare provider. 
  • Wearing sunglasses: Direct exposure to light can spur dry eye. Your eye care specialist may recommend you wear dark, wrap-around sunglasses when outdoors as protection.
  • Avoiding environmental exposure: Since smoke, wind, and dry climates increase dry risk, you may want to avoid these triggers by staying away from campfires, limiting smoking or how often you’re around cigarette smoke, and being indoors or wearing sunglasses when outside during windy days. 
  • Using a humidifier: Because dry air can increase your chances of developing dry eye or worsen pre-existing dry eye symptoms, you may want to purchase a humidifier for your home or workplace. Humidifiers can add moisture into the air, making your eyes feel more lubricated and moist. 
  • Sleeping well: Adults typically need 7 to 8 hours of uninterrupted rest at night, with children and infants needing considerably more. Not getting enough sleep or having interrupted sleep can lower the quality of your tears. Getting enough sleep throughout the night can be challenging. You may want to try getting some physical activity in throughout the day, limiting screen time before bed, avoiding caffeine or alcohol at night, and sleeping in a comfortable environment to induce better sleep.
  • Limiting screen time: Researchers have found that using electronic devices for long periods of time can alter how often you blink. Blinking helps your eyes stay lubricated. Too much time on screens can reduce the amount of times you blink. As a result, taking breaks from your phone, computer, or TV can prevent a low blinking rate and improve your tear production. 
  • Following your treatment plan: If you already have a pre-existing diagnosis of dry eye, following your treatment plan can help reduce symptoms and prevent your condition from worsening. Your treatment regimen may include using prescription eye drops (or, over-the-counter artificial tears) and taking medications such as Restasis (cyclosporine) or Xiidra (lifitegrast). If your treatment isn’t working to reduce symptoms, talk to your provider about other methods or surgical procedures that can help you better manage your condition and keep frustrating symptoms at bay. 

Discuss With Your Healthcare Provider

Dry eye can be a frustrating condition to live with, but preventative measures and treatment can help you reduce your symptoms. That’s why it’s so important to stay in touch with an eye care specialist if you receive a diagnosis for dry eye or may be at a higher risk of developing the condition. 

Your provider can help you find preventative measures that work for your lifestyle. If you have dry eye and your treatment plan isn’t working as you hoped, talk to your provider about changing your medication or finding alternative treatments that can soothe your symptoms. Keep in mind: always ask your provider and get their OK before you make any major lifestyle or medical changes. 

A Quick Review 

Dry eye occurs when your eyes don’t make enough good-quality tears to keep your eyes lubricated. As a result, you may experience symptoms such as redness, blurry vision, and light sensitivity. While these symptoms may be frustrating, it’s important to note that dry eye is treatable and can be prevented. 

Prevention strategies include getting your eyes tested each year, avoiding environmental exposure to smoke and wind, reducing your screen time, getting enough sleep, and wearing sunglasses to protect your eyes. If you have dry eye, these preventative measures along with your treatment plan can reduce your symptoms and prevent your condition from worsening. 

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  4. American Optometric Association. Comprehensive eye exams.

  5. National Eye Institute. Tests for dry eye.

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tips for better sleep.

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