Glaucoma and Chronic Dry Eye

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board

Chronic dry eye, or simply “dry eye,” is a disease of the surface of the eye that can happen when your eye does not make enough tears or there is an issue with the tears that are made. Chronic dry eye may also be called dry eye syndrome (DES), dry eye disease (DED), or keratoconjunctivitis sicca.1

Studies estimate that more than 16 million U.S. adults have been diagnosed with chronic dry eye. There are also about 6 million more adults who have symptoms of dry eye but have not been diagnosed with the condition.2

Glaucoma is also a common disease of the eye. Glaucoma often occurs with dry eye disease. Understanding both conditions and the link between them can help you get the right treatment for your symptoms.

What is glaucoma?

Glaucoma is an eye disease that damages the optic nerve, which is like a “cable” that connects the eye to the brain. Glaucoma can result in progressive vision loss and is the second leading cause of blindness worldwide.3,4

There are many forms of glaucoma. Open-angle glaucoma is the most common form. In this form, an imbalance of fluid production and drainage often causes increased pressure inside the eye. High eye pressure over a long period of time is thought to result in damage to the optic nerve.3,4

There are often no early symptoms or warning signs of glaucoma. Because of this, screening visits are important if you have a family history of glaucoma or other risk factors.3,4

Who gets it?

About 3 million Americans have glaucoma, and about half of those people do not know they have it because there are usually no early symptoms or warning signs. Anyone can get glaucoma, but it is more common in certain groups. These groups include:3

  • Black Americans over age 40, who are 6 to 8 times more likely to develop glaucoma than white Americans
  • Anyone over age 60
  • Those with a family history of glaucoma
  • People with diabetes, who are 2 times more likely to develop glaucoma than those without diabetes

It is important to be screened early and regularly by an eye doctor if you have risk factors for developing glaucoma.3


Glaucoma is treated with eye drops, oral medicine, laser procedures, or eye surgery. Your doctor may recommend a combination of treatments depending on the type and severity of glaucoma. The goal of glaucoma treatment is to decrease the pressure in the eye to prevent progressive vision loss.3,4

Because glaucoma and chronic dry eye are both more common with increasing age, it is possible to develop both conditions. Both conditions are chronic (long-term), and treatment for both diseases may involve the use of eye drops. It is important to treat both conditions to maintain the overall health of your eye and preserve vision.3,4

Glaucoma treatment often includes the use of pressure-lowering eye drops. Many of these contain a preservative called benzalkonium chloride (BAK). BAK is known to damage the cells on the surface of the eye, which can lead to dry eye disease or allergic reactions in some people. There are preservative-free options for certain pressure-lowering eye drops if needed.3,4

What does this mean to you?

If you have glaucoma, talk to your doctor about any dry eye symptoms you may have. Doctors may miss dry eye symptoms if you do not describe how these are impacting your daily life.

Treating dry eyes in addition to your glaucoma treatment may help soothe your eyes and prevent further damage to the surface of your eyes. Ask your doctor about preservative-free eye drops if necessary.4

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