Dry Eyes

Patient Experience

  • Reference Number: HEY-122/2023
  • Departments: Ophthalmology Department
  • Last Updated: 31 May 2023


This leaflet has been produced to give you general information about your condition.  Most of your questions should have been answered by this leaflet.  It is not intended to replace the discussion between you and the healthcare team, but may act as a starting point for discussion. If after reading it you have any concerns or require further explanation, please discuss this with a member of the healthcare team.

What is dry eye?

Dry eye is the name for a group of conditions that are all related to problems with the tears you are producing.

Tears are made up of a mix of water, proteins, fats, mucus, and infection-fighting cells. Tears are produced by several different glands situated in the eyelids, under the upper eye lid and the mucous membrane covering the white of the eye.

Your tears serve several important functions:

  • They lubricate your eye, keeping it clean, and free of dust.
  • They protect your eye against infection.
  • They aid sight by helping to stabilise your vision.

The symptoms that you have vary and are related to the part of the tear producing glands that are affected.  This is why not everyone has the same symptoms.

What are the symptoms?

These include:

  • Watery eyes – particularly when it is windy. This is because the tears that you are making are not sticking to the surface of the eye as well as they should and so the eye gets dry.
  • Feelings of dryness, grittiness, or soreness, in one or both eyes, these symptoms may get worse throughout the day as the eye is not getting enough moisture.
  • Redness of your eyes.
  • Blurred vision – particularly when reading, watching television or using the computer. This is because when you are doing these things you are concentrating and so you blink less often. This leads to a build up of grease in the tears and so your vision goes temporarily blurred.
  • Your eyelids stick – This is because there may not be as much lubrication first thing in the morning – your eyelids can stick together or to the surface of your eyes.

What are the causes?

Dry eye syndrome is often a part of the natural ageing process, but can be caused by problems with the eyelids, such as blepharitis, or as a side effect of some prescription drugs. Blepharitis is a common (and usually mild) chronic inflammation of the rims of the eyelids. If this is found to be the case you will be given separate information on how to deal with this.

A few medical conditions such as Rheumatoid Arthritis can be associated with dry eyes. Many other factors such as hot, dry or windy climates, high altitudes, air conditioning, central heating and cigarette smoke also cause or worsen dry eyes. However, in many cases it is caused by a combination of factors and there is no one single identifiable cause.

What you can do?

Try to eliminate, any possible triggers of the condition, such as medicines, or environmental factors. Different types of medicines may be able to be prescribed by your doctor.

It is also possible to make changes to compensate for environmental factors – for example, placing a humidifier in your home, or workplace, may help to reduce dryness.

You may also be recommended to change your work habits. For example, if you job involves a lot of computer work, taking breaks every hour to rest your eyes, may help to reduce your symptoms.

What is the treatment?

Underlying medical conditions – If you have an underlying medical condition which is causing dry eye syndrome, the doctor will ask your doctor to prescribe treatment for it.

Medication – Artificial tears are the usual treatment for dry eyes. Many of these are available to buy over the counter without a prescription.

There are three types of tear substitute

  • Drops – Artificial eye drops need to be used often to work well, so make sure you follow your doctor’s instructions. There are many brands of artificial tears; some suit some people better than others and so you may need to try more than one brand before your symptoms improve. Some people develop sensitivity to the preservative used in the drops, but preservative-free drops are available should this happen. It is also advisable to use preservative-free drops if you are using the drops on more regular basis.
  • Gels – These last longer so do not normally have to be used as regularly as drops.
  • Ointments -These are used overnight because they are sticky and would interfere with vision during the day.

Unfortunately these treatments cannot cure dry eyes for good as a result you need to continue using the treatment at regular intervals every day. They can, however, reduce the symptoms significantly.

Once dry eyes have been diagnosed the treatment may need to continue for life.

Surgery – If your dry eyes fail to respond to other forms of treatment, surgery may be an option. One surgical technique, known as punctual occlusion, involves using small plugs to seal your tear ducts, if this is necessary it will be discussed with you separately.

What happens afterwards?

If the doctor is happy that there are no other, more serious problems with your eyes, you will be discharged from the eye clinic. The doctor may recommend that you buy some eye drops over the counter (OTC) or alternatively that your doctor prescribes some medication for you.

What if there is a problem?

Dry eye is often a troublesome, although in most cases not serious, eye condition. Once dry eyes have been diagnosed the treatment may need to continue for life.

If your symptoms change, or worsen, then you will need to see your doctor to ask them to refer you to the eye clinic to ensure that you have not developed any new eye problems.

Should you require further advice on the issues contained in this leaflet, please do not hesitate to contact the Ophthalmic Department (01482) 608788.

This leaflet was produced by the Ophthalmology Department, Hull University Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust and will be reviewed in May 2026.

General Advice and Consent

Most of your questions should have been answered by this leaflet, but remember that this is only a starting point for discussion with the healthcare team.

Consent to treatment

Before any doctor, nurse or therapist examines or treats you, they must seek your consent or permission. In order to make a decision, you need to have information from health professionals about the treatment or investigation which is being offered to you. You should always ask them more questions if you do not understand or if you want more information.

The information you receive should be about your condition, the alternatives available to you, and whether it carries risks as well as the benefits. What is important is that your consent is genuine or valid. That means:

  • you must be able to give your consent
  • you must be given enough information to enable you to make a decision
  • you must be acting under your own free will and not under the strong influence of another person

Information about you

We collect and use your information to provide you with care and treatment. As part of your care, information about you will be shared between members of a healthcare team, some of whom you may not meet. Your information may also be used to help train staff, to check the quality of our care, to manage and plan the health service, and to help with research. Wherever possible we use anonymous data.

We may pass on relevant information to other health organisations that provide you with care. All information is treated as strictly confidential and is not given to anyone who does not need it. If you have any concerns please ask your doctor, or the person caring for you.

Under the General Data Protection Regulation and the Data Protection Act 2018 we are responsible for maintaining the confidentiality of any information we hold about you. For further information visit the following page: Confidential Information about You.

If you or your carer needs information about your health and wellbeing and about your care and treatment in a different format, such as large print, braille or audio, due to disability, impairment or sensory loss, please advise a member of staff and this can be arranged.

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