The Effects of Caffeine and Alcohol on Chronic Dry Eye

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board

It probably comes as no surprise that alcohol and caffeine intake may have an impact on your dry eye symptoms. What may surprise you is that these substances could have different effects on your eyes and the possible cause of your dry eye symptoms.

Studies on how alcohol and caffeine impact your health often contradict each other. The result is confusion – are alcohol and caffeine “bad” for you? If so, can or should you consume them at all?

Exploring the effects of caffeine and alcohol on chronic dry eye and how they impact other areas of health can help you understand what these lifestyle choices mean to you.

Alcohol and chronic dry eye

Some studies have shown that light to moderate alcohol use may have some health benefits. Like other substances, weighing the risks and benefits may be confusing.1

No doubt, drinking alcohol can have serious consequences for the health and well-being of the person drinking, as well as those around them. In 2019, more than 14 million adults over the age of 18 had alcohol use disorder (AUD), costing the United States economy more than 249 billion dollars.2

It turns out that you do not need to have AUD to have the negative outcomes of alcohol as it relates to dry eye. Your evening cocktail after work may be causing or worsening your dry eye symptoms. Drinking alcohol causes changes to both your eyes and tear production, including:3-7

  • Decreased tear breakup time (TBUT) – TBUT is a test performed by your doctor to determine if you have evaporative dry eye disease. A decreased result means your tears evaporate or break up faster than average, which may lead to chronic dry eyes.
  • Abnormalities in the makeup of tears
  • Formation of cataracts with heavy drinking – A cataract is a clouding of the lens inside the eye, which is usually clear at birth. The lens helps to focus light onto the retina, located at the back of your eye. Cataracts develop slowly over time and usually do not cause noticeable vision changes until age 60 or older.

What about caffeine intake?

You may be wondering about the relationship between caffeine and dry eye and if your morning cup of coffee is causing or worsening it. Doctors have thought that caffeine may worsen your dry eye because it can make you urinate more, causing you to lose more fluid in your body. Caffeine does have a diuretic effect (meaning it makes you urinate more), but studies show it does not lead to dehydration.8

The good news

Did you know that some research suggests that caffeinated beverages such as your morning pick-me-up may protect against dry eyes? That is great news for the millions of coffee drinkers in America.

In a medically reviewed study published in 2012, those who drank caffeine produced more tears than those who did not drink caffeine. When looking at other studies, doctors think that caffeine intake may increase some fluids in the body, such as stomach acid and saliva.9,10

More studies and additional information are needed to see if the amount of caffeine consumed matters when it comes to treating dry eye disease.10

The downsides

The research that shows caffeine is beneficial to tears may be missing how the amount of caffeine changes its benefits. In other words, if you drink 4 cups of coffee per day, would there be the same benefits as only drinking a single cup?

Caffeine is not without its downsides. Drinking coffee can lead to physical symptoms, including:10

  • Feeling jittery
  • High blood pressure
  • Increased urination

What does this mean to me?

The bottom line is that lifestyle choices, including alcohol and caffeine, can affect your eyes. While some choices may appear beneficial, others do not. Sometimes, studies change when it comes to the risks and benefits related to alcohol and caffeine. This shows the importance of telling your eye doctor about your drinking habits.

If medically reviewed studies show that something may help your dry eye symptoms, it is important to have that conversation with your doctor before starting anything on your own. There are risks to everything, and your health history may determine whether or not you should start treatment.

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