Depression, Anxiety, and Chronic Dry Eye

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board

Those with chronic dry eyes often express being unhappy about the symptoms they have related to the disease.

Several published studies have shown a connection between dry eye disease and depression. Using a variety of self-reporting symptom tools, people with dry eye disease reported higher rates of depression than those without dry eye. Another study showed that anxiety is more common among those with dry eye.1

There are several reasons for depression, anxiety, and chronic dry eye to occur together. However, this connection is not entirely understood. The degree to which these conditions go together may also be more severe in some people than in others.

Chronic dry eye, depression, and anxiety

Chronic dry eye can make your daily life pretty miserable, depending on the severity. Dry eye disease has been linked to depression and anxiety by several studies.

But which came first: dry eye disease, or depression and anxiety? It turns out it could be both.

Studies have shown that people with chronic dry eye are at an increased risk for both eye pain and non-eye pain (such as arthritis or headaches). This means that dry eye syndrome may lead to depression and anxiety, or depression and anxiety may exist before dry eye symptoms. Doctors may use this information to help treat dry eye.2

Pain is the common overlapping symptom with chronic dry eye, depression, and anxiety. Among people with dry eye and depression or anxiety, pain is the most commonly reported symptom. Dealing with a chronic illness or pain on a daily basis takes its toll mentally. The result may be depression or anxiety.3

Depression and anxiety drugs

If you have a history of depression and anxiety, drugs used to treat these conditions may be a reason you have dry, itchy, painful eyes. This further complicates the cycle of pain, dry eye disease, and depression or anxiety.4

Drugs known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) can make symptoms of dry eye disease worse. SSRIs are commonly used to treat depression and anxiety. This is 1 example of how having depression and anxiety may lead to dry eye symptoms or worsening of existing chronic dry eye.4

The genetic connection to dry eye

Some people are more likely to develop chronic pain. A number of studies have focused on the shared genetic factors of both chronic dry eye and chronic pain. The results of these studies have shown that genes may impact dry eye disease, chronic pain syndrome, and depression. Because all of these conditions are complex and may be caused by many things, their exact links to genes are still being studied.1-3

The findings of these studies further support that dry eye disease, depression, and anxiety may be linked. However, this link is often not clear and may be complex. What is known is that mental health disorders and their treatments may lead to symptoms of dry eye disease.1

Your mental health is as important as your physical health. Talk to your doctor about all the symptoms you may have related to chronic dry eye, including mental health symptoms.

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