Your eyes get dry when they don’t make tears properly or when the tears dry up too quickly.
Dry eyes can be caused by allergies, medications, certain medical conditions, hormones, and, yes, age. Most people over 65 have some symptoms, which include:
Before you call your doctor, though, consider what might be irritating your eyes. You may be able to fix the problem.
Whether your living space and work space are heated or air-conditioned, a lack of moisture in the air can make your eyes red, itchy, and irritated. Add to that the glare caused by poor lighting, indoor air pollutants — and the fact you rarely take breaks — and you’ve got yourself a recipe for dry eyes.
Place plants and dishes of water in a too-dry room, or use a humidifier. Keep a bottle of eye mist on your desk to spray when your eyes start to feel dry.
Smoke, dust, wind, and extreme hot or cold temps outdoors can make your eyes feel like sandpaper. Even places where the air isn’t dry can be dirty with air pollution, which can dry your eyes out.
Sweat, sunscreen, and bugs are examples of other stuff that can get in your eyes when you’re doing things outside. Just ask runners and bicyclists, and people cutting their grass.
Sunglasses with wraparound frames can help protect your eyes from more than the sun.
Your face may not be complete without shadow, liner, and mascara. But eye makeup can clog the openings of the glands at the base of your lashes, causing dry, gritty eyes. And when you apply eyeliner to the inside of your lash line, particles move more quickly into your eye.
Remove eye makeup from both your lashes and lids every night, using antiseptic wipes, to prevent irritation.
Wearing contact lenses often goes hand-in-hand with eye irritation. Half of contact lens wearers complain of dryness.
Change your contacts regularly to prevent protein deposits, which can leave your eyes feeling dry. You may want to opt for daily disposable lenses.
Consider switching to a silicon-based hydrogel lens that doesn’t let water evaporate as easily as others. Another option: Scleral lenses that cover the colored part of your eye as well as the white area known as the sclera. They help dry eye symptoms for some people.
Surprisingly, the solution you use to clean your contacts can also irritate eyes. Some have preservatives that can be drying. Others are made with materials that may not be OK with certain types of lenses. Ask your eye doctor what to use or what ingredients to avoid.
Dry eye symptoms are so common among screen-gazers that doctors are calling it computer vision syndrome. When you’re reading or looking at a TV, computer, or smartphone, your blinking rate (or blinks per minute) goes way down — you blink only about one-third as often when you’re staring at a screen of any kind.
You need to blink for two reasons: to restore the tear film and to defend the eye from stuff like particles in the air and dead cells. So the less you blink, the more your eyes pay the price.
Practice “purposeful blinking” every few minutes, and remember to take breaks. A good rule of thumb is to look away from your screen at least every 20 minutes and gaze at something 20 feet from your eyes for 20 seconds.