How Chronic Dry Eye Can Impact Reading

People with chronic dry eye (CDE) often report that they have trouble reading for long periods of time. In many cases, the itchy, painful feeling that people with CDE live with on a daily basis is made worse when reading and using screens.1

Reading is a huge part of our everyday lives and one of the most important daily tasks. And for many people, their jobs and careers depend on reading and the use of screens. To have this most basic function impaired by CDE – through gritty-feeling eyes, soreness, blurry vision, and sometimes double vision – can greatly impact a person’s quality of life.2

Why tears are important for reading

We need tears to help us see clearly. Tears are made up of a combination of oil, water, and mucus. They are vital in maintaining the health of the front surface of our eyes. In people with CDE, the ability to produce enough tears or quality tears is out of balance.3

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Every time we blink, tears nourish our eyes. Without this frequent lubrication, it can make reading very difficult and uncomfortable.4

What the research says

A 2017 study analyzed the blink rate in people who were reading from a book versus text on an electronic device. Researchers found that, for both activities, the blink rate dramatically decreased. They were able to conclude that close-up reading – whether on paper or on a screen – leads to reduced tear production.4

Another study from 2018 found that people with clinically significant dry eye read slower than others during a sustained silent reading exercise. Researchers have found that the speed at which someone reads is directly influenced by dry eyes.1

By looking at blink rates as well as measuring signs and symptoms of dry eye before and after reading for a period of time, visual function tests have become quite helpful. In fact, several reading tests are now routinely used when diagnosing chronic dry eye. These tests include:2

  • MNREAD Acuity Chart
  • Radner Reading Chart
  • Wilkins Rate of Reading Test
  • International Reading Speed Texts (IReST)

Ways to manage CDE while reading

While chronic dry eye can make reading difficult, there are ways to manage the symptoms. Here are a few to try:3,4

  • Blink regularly. Blinking more frequently while reading can help lubricate the eyes, especially if you are reading for long periods of time. It might take some practice, but creating this habit can help your vision and the duration at which you can read.
  • Take breaks. Give your eyes frequent breaks when reading for long periods of time. Take your gaze up and across the room. Blink a few times. Close your eyes for 30 to 60 seconds. Then, resume reading. This can help with tear production and can help moisten the eye.
  • Read with an elevated gaze. A downward gaze has been shown to decrease the amount of times a person blinks. And the less you blink, the drier the eye becomes. Try reading with an elevated gaze – as if you were looking out a window – rather than reading with your eyes looking down.
  • Avoid excess air. Reading near an air conditioner, fan, heater, or anyplace where air is being blown in your face can further dry out the eyes. Avoid these places when reading.
  • Try a humidifier. A humidifier can help create more moisture in the air. Better yet, place the humidifier on a table next to you as you read.
  • Use artificial tears. Several over-the-counter artificial tears are helpful solutions for people with mild CDE. Choose artificial tears that are preservative-free since they have fewer additives that can further irritate eyes.
This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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