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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Dry eyes

Karu maroke

Tears are made up of three separate secretions: a sticky base layer, a watery mid layer and an oily top layer (which slows tear evaporation). Tears form a protective film over the surface of your eye, lubricating movement and washing away debris and any toxins.

Dry eyes are caused by your eyes not producing enough tears or by something affecting the ability of your tears to form a protective film. This gives your eyes a sore, gritty sensation.

Despite the name, the irritation of dry eye may trigger excessive tears.

Dry eyes are common with ageing and are more common in women than men. They're associated with some health conditions and medications, and with screen use (such as not blinking enough while watching TV).

Causes of dry eyes

Several factors can lead to dry eyes, including:

Symptoms of dry eyes

Common symptoms include:

Diagnosing dry eyes

Often you can try treating dry eyes yourself but you should contact your optometrist or general practice team if:

Treating dry eyes

If there is an obvious cause, the treatment will aim to reduce or address this issue, such as changing medication, avoiding wearing contact lenses or reducing screen time.

Artificial tears or ointment can help, and you can buy them from a pharmacy.

Treating eyelid inflammation (blepharitis) by cleaning your eyelids and using hot compresses can improve your dry eyes by improving the protective oily tear layer.

Increasing your omega-3 intake by eating more oily fish or taking a fish oil, flaxseed oil or other omega-3 fatty acid supplement every day may help dry eyes. Check with your general practice team or pharmacist before taking a fish oil supplement to make sure this is safe for you.

If these treatments do not work, see your general practice team or optometrist to review the diagnosis and discuss other treatment options. These include other prescription drops and minor eye surgery to block the drainage of your tears or fix eyelid problems.

Preventing dry eyes

You can help prevent dry eye symptoms by:

If you're doing concentrated eye work, such as reading, watching TV or working on a computer, make sure you take breaks. Closing your eyes for 10 seconds every five to 10 minutes will help, as will blinking more often.

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Content shared between HealthInfo Canterbury, KidsHealth and Health Navigator NZ as part of a National Health Content Hub collaborative. Last reviewed March 2023.

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