How Can Chronic Dry Eye Affect Daily Activities?
Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last updated: June 2023
If you struggle with chronic dry eye, you are not alone. An estimated 16.4 million people in the United States have been diagnosed with chronic dry eye. This number is likely much higher because of the differences in symptoms and underdiagnosis.1
As you age, your risk of developing dry eye increases. Research has shown that most adults over the age of 65 have experienced dry eye symptoms.1
When you have chronic dry eye, your daily activities may suffer. Understanding the role of your tears and blinking, how your daily habits and lifestyle may contribute to dry eye, and methods to manage your symptoms will set you up for success in treating your chronic dry eye symptoms.
The role of tears in how you see
The tears are made up of the perfect mix of oil on water, held onto the surface of your eye by mucus. Blinking washes the tears over the surface of your eye, smoothing its rough surface. Without the moisturizing and replenishment of tears, the surface of your eye is not smooth enough to allow for proper vision.2
Increased tear evaporation
The oil film produced by small glands on the edge of your eyelids (meibomian glands) might become clogged. Conditions like eyelid inflammation or seasonal allergies may increase tear evaporation, along with other conditions. One major cause of tear evaporation is blinking less often. When you concentrate during certain activities, your blink rate decreases, leading to dry eye symptoms.3,4
Your daily activities may be affected by decreased blinking. Studies have shown that reading, looking at digital screens and TVs, and long drives can reduce blinking.5
Blinking is important! With every blink, your eyes are coated with a new set of tears, which serve to protect, moisten, and help you see your best. If you are not blinking when you should be, your eyes do not get the moisture or protection they need.5
With the increased popularity of e-readers, it is not surprising that digital eye strain increases with these devices. If you have dry eyes, reading a book the old-fashioned way may also cause problems.6
In a 2018 study, researchers revealed that chronic dry eye could slow how fast you can read. According to the study, the reading speed of those with dry eye can be slowed by as much as 10 percent compared to those without dry eye. Also, dry eye disease can make it uncomfortable to read for more than about 30 minutes at a time.7
Americans spend as much as 12 hours per day in front of a digital screen. Research has shown that increased screen time does more than leave you feeling like a couch potato. Binge-watching your favorite TV show can make your eyes feel tired and dry. Watching a screen, including your TV, can decrease your blink rate and leave your eyes dry, gritty, and irritated.8
Staring at the road while driving also dries out your eyes due to decreased blinking. If you are driving at night, your symptoms may be worse.9
By nighttime, your eyes may be drier than they are during the day simply because you have used them all day. If you have strained or overused your eyes by staring at a computer screen at work or home, your eyes can be drier than usual.2
For someone with normal eye moisture, the surface of your eye stays moist between blinks. This allows for easy, smooth blinking. In dry eye disease, the eye surface becomes dry and rough between blinks. This can scatter light abnormally instead of focusing it for clear vision.2
Light scattering from dry eye is especially noticeable at night because the pupil is usually dilated (open) under low-light conditions. As a result, more scattered light can enter the pupil at night compared to scattered light during the day. That is why bright, oncoming headlights can be especially bothersome when driving at night.2
Talk to your doctor about how chronic dry eye is impacting your daily life. Treatments are available to help, and your doctor will be able to tell you which ones are best for you.