5 Medical Causes of Chronic Dry Eyes

May 10, 2023
5 Medical Causes of Chronic Dry Eyes
If your eyes are chronically itchy, irritated, or burning, you may have dry eye, a problem with your tear production. Learn about five important medical causes of the condition here.

More than 20 million Americans have a condition called dry eye. It’s when your eyes don’t produce enough tears to keep them moist and healthy.

Healthy eyes have glands in and around the eyelids whose job is to secrete tears. When you blink, your lids spread the tears across the cornea, the clear, curved membrane that covers the front of the eye. 

Tears serve many purposes: They lubricate the eye’s surface, wash away any debris and pathogens, and help your vision remain clear. If you produce too many tears, the excess flows into the ducts in the inner corners of your lids, draining down the back of your nose.

Dry eye isn’t just a nuisance. If you don’t treat it, it may lead to a number of complications that can affect your eyesight.

At Precision Eye Institute, ophthalmologist Dr. Orest Krajnyk and optometrist Dr. Sean McLoughlin treat dry eye at their offices in New Smyrna, Daytona Beach, and Edgewater, Florida. Their goals are to reduce patient discomfort and preserve eye health with a comprehensive evaluation and innovative treatment options for patients living with dry eye.

5 medical causes of chronic dry eye

Dry eye is most often caused by an imbalance between tear production and duct drainage. People with dry eye don’t produce enough tears, their tears are of an inferior quality, or both.

Tears should contain three layers: water, mucus, and oil. If any of the layers is compromised, you won’t be able to produce enough good quality tears, and the result is dry eye. Five medical causes of dry eye can turn the condition chronic.

1. Use of certain medications

Numerous classes of medications have side effects that include dry eye and dry mouth. They vary from beta blockers for heart disease to amitriptyline for pain and depression to promethazine for nausea. Others include tranquilizers, antihistamines, diuretics, birth control pills, and ulcer medications.

2. Meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD)

When the tiny Meibomian glands in the eyelids become blocked, they’re unable to protect the tear film.

Every time we blink, we activate the muscles around the Meibomian glands. They squeeze the glands and cause them to secrete a droplet into the tear film. The droplets become the tear film’s lipid layer, which is the outermost layer. When you don’t blink fully or frequently enough, the lipid layer thickens in consistency, blocking the glands and leading to symptoms of dry eye.

MGD has traditionally been hard to treat, but a breakthrough therapy has made it far simpler: the LipiFlow® Thermal Pulsation System. This cutting-edge device heats and massages away the blockage in a 12-minute in-office procedure.

MGD is fairly common. According to a 2012 study published in the journal Cornea, 86% of the study’s dry eye participants also had symptoms of MGD.

3. Insufficient vitamin intake

A number of vitamins are responsible for eye health, and an insufficient amount of these can cause dry eye symptoms.

Vitamin A supports the cornea, and a deficiency can lead to corneal dryness. A study also suggests vitamin A improves the quality of tears.

Vitamin C is an antioxidant that targets the blood vessels in the eye and helps prevent cataracts. It also helps form collagen, a fibrous protein that provides structure to the eye.

Vitamin E is also an antioxidant, protecting the eyes from free radical damage.

A study concluded that vitamin D deficiency can cause dry eye; patients with dry eye had significantly lower vitamin D levels than those without it. Another study showed vitamin D supplements reduced eye inflammation, promoted tear secretion, and improved tear quality. 

Lack of vitamin B12 is associated with ocular pain and severe dry eye disease. The vitamin reduces the burning sensation in dry eye by repairing the corneal nerve layer.

4. Underlying illness

Some of the major players include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Graves' disease, diabetes, scleroderma, and Sjogren's syndrome.

Graves’ disease is an autoimmune condition; your immune system attacks your thyroid gland in the front of your neck, leading to production of too much thyroid hormone. This can cause a wide variety of serious health concerns, including eyes that bulge out from their sockets. The increased surface area can overwhelm the amount of tears, leading to dry eye.

5. Pregnancy

The fluctuating hormones characteristic of pregnancy can lead to symptoms of dry eye.

If your eyes are constantly gritty, itchy, or burning, you may have chronic dry eye, and your next step toward recovery is to come into Precision Eye Institute for an evaluation and treatment. 

Schedule an appointment with one of our doctors by calling us at any of our locations or by booking online with us today.