Environmental Factors and Dry Eye Disease


Have you ever walked into a room, and immediately your eyes become irritated? Something in the air is causing your eyes to sting and burn. Now imagine that you have dry eye disease and your eyes are already irritated before you walk into that same room.

Dry eye is a prevalent eye condition usually treated with artificial tears.  As many people already know, using artificial tears is often not nearly enough to get the desired relief.  Before considering more advanced treatments like Restasis, or punctal plugs, it is good to control environmental factors that may aggravate your dry eyes.  But what are those environmental factors?  This article will explore some of the everyday things you can do to improve your dry eyes without drugs or other artificial means.

Photo by Ali Karimiboroujeni from Pexels

Living Indoors

Living in Michigan during the winter months can really aggravate dry eyes.  Furnace air and car windshield defrosters have very low humidity.  If possible, use a humidifier, either one installed in your furnace or a portable room humidifier.  Even setting out bowls of water helps.  You can also add plants to rooms for increased humidity.  Check the air quality in your home or work environment simply by looking at a sunbeam coming through a window early or late in the day.  All of the dust you see floating in the air adds to your eye’s irritation.  Open a window if the outside temperature allows and get some air circulating


Fumes can be harmful to your dry eyes.  Cleaners, solvents, paints, furniture, carpets, even dry-cleaned clothing release chemicals in the air that can aggravate dry eyes.  Also, consider things we usually don’t consider irritants, such as cooking odors, discharged air from the vacuum cleaner, and pet dander.  Are your eyes fine when you’re away from home or work but become irritated the minute you get back home or to work?  If this happens, look carefully for the offending agent.

Being Outdoors

Sometimes, being outside can be worse than being inside.  Air pollution, smoke, wind, and dust all exacerbate the problem.  Even places where the air isn’t dry can be dirty with air pollution, drying out your eyes.  Sunglasses with covered frames can help protect your eyes from more than the sun.  Having hayfever and allergies compounds the dryness.  Using an allergy medicine that is not an antihistamine helps.

Cigarette Smoking

Need I say anything.  My grandfather owned a tavern where everyone had a cigarette or cigar hanging from the corner of their mouth.  Not unlike a scene from The Hustler with Paul Newman.  My job was to help my father clean the floors on Sunday mornings.  I can still remember my eyes watering from the previous night’s smoke.

Contacts and Lens Solution

Water is the main component of contact lenses, and that water has to come from somewhere.  Think of a contact lens as putting a sponge on your already dry eyes.  Use a contact lens rewetting solution and use it often.  Watch out for contact lens solutions that irritate your eyes and frequently change your contact lenses.  NEVER sleep in  your contact lenses

Computers and Electronics

When you’re reading or looking at a TV, computer, or smartphone, you blink only about one-half as often as usual.  Blinking is most important for two reasons: to restore the tear film and to protect the eye from dust particles in the air and dead cells.  So the less you blink, the more your eyes will suffer.  Follow the 20/20/20 rule and look 20 feet away for 20 seconds for every 20 minutes you do close-up work.  If you work on a computer, instill some artificial tears before starting.  Don’t wait until your eyes are already irritated before using the tears.  Be proactive.

Eye Makeup and Mascara

Any makeup, especially eye makeup, can get under the eyelids.  These tiny particles act like sand under the lids, exacerbating an already dry eye.  Many products say they are hypoallergenic, but this makes no difference.

Medicines and Dehydration

Drinking too little water can worsen dry eyes syndrome, particularly during hot, dry, and windy weather.  Too much alcohol can also have a drying effect.  Recreational drugs, such as cannabis, severely affect dry eyes.  But the most common dehydrating agents are the medicines you take.  Antihistamines, diuretics, tricyclic antidepressants, decongestants, hormone replacements, birth control pills, acne medicines, pain relievers, chemotherapy, cancer medicines, and antianxiety medicines all aggravate dry eye.  Check with your doctor before altering any medications. 

If you suffer from dry eye syndrome, look into these environmental factors and control whatever you can.

This newsletter does not constitute medical advice.  Make sure to contact your healthcare provider if you experience any of these conditions.  Do not make any changes to your medications before consulting your physician.

Similar Posts