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What Causes Dry Eye?

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In order to understand what causes chronic dry eyes, you need to know a few important things about the structure of the eye and about the composition of tear film.

Tear Composition

There are 2 important tear secretion glands in your eyes, lacrimal glands and meibomian glands, and they each produce different components of the tear film.

There are 3 layers to the tear film that coats the eye: oil, water, and mucus. A problem with any of these layers of the tear film can be the cause.


The outer layer of the tear film is produced by small meibomian glands on the upper and lower inside corners of your eyelids, which contain fatty oils called lipids.

The oils coat the tear surface and slow down evaporation of the middle, watery layer. If your oil glands don’t produce enough oil, the watery layer evaporates too quickly, which can be the cause.

Clogged oil glands

This condition is common in people whose meibomian glands are clogged.

Meibomian Gland Dysfunction is more common in people with inflammation along the edges of their eyelids (known as blepharitis), with rosacea, and with other skin disorders.


The middle layer of the tear film is mostly water, with a little bit of salt mixed in. This layer, produced by the lacrimal tear glands at the upper outer corner of the eyes, cleanses your eyes and washes away foreign particles and irritants.

The causes are when the eye produces too little of the watery layer or when the watery portion of the tears evaporates too quickly. Furthermore, if your eye produces inadequate amounts of water, the oil and mucus layers can touch each other and cause a stringy discharge.


The inner layer of mucus helps spread tears evenly over the surface of your eyes. If you don’t have enough mucus to cover your eyes, dry spots can form on the front surface of the eye (the cornea). Doctors can see uneven patches using a fluorescent dye.

Causes of Dry Eyes Based on Tear Film Composition

Decreased Tear Production

Inadequate tear production is usually the cause. The aqueous tear layer is affected, resulting in aqueous tear deficiency or lacrimal hyposecretion. The lacrimal gland does not produce sufficient tears to keep the entire conjunctiva and cornea covered by a complete layer. This usually occurs in people who are otherwise healthy.


Increased age is associated with decreased tearing; this is the most common type found in postmenopausal women.


Sjogren’s syndrome and other autoimmune diseases are often associated with decreased tear production. This includes rheumatoid arthritis (RA), lupus (SLE), Graves Disorder, graft versus host (GVH) and more.


Drugs such as sedatives, diuretics, antidepressants, anti-hypertensives, oral contraceptives, antihistamines, nasal decongestants, beta-blockers, and pain relievers can cause decrease tear production. Infiltration of the lacrimal glands by tumors, or inflammation of the lacrimal glands can also be the cause for this condition.

Abnormal Tear Composition

Another reason is abnormal tear composition, which results in rapid evaporation or premature destruction of the tears. When caused by rapid evaporation, it is termed evaporative dry eyes.

In this condition, although the tear gland produces a sufficient amount of tears, the rate of evaporation of the tears is too rapid. The watery portion of the tears evaporates, leaving small amounts of very salty (hypertonic) liquid behind.

As a result, the eye cannot keep the conjunctiva and cornea entirely covered with a complete layer of tears, particularly during certain activities and in certain environments.

Additional Dry Eye Causes

This condition can also be caused by one’s environment, life style factors, certain physical abnormalities, and infections of the eye. We hope that consulting these individual pages will help you understand more about what causes dry eyes. These categories include:
Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS)
High Altitudes
Dry Eyes at Night
Meibomian Gland Dysfunction
Watery Eyes


"I am 6 months post LASIK. I was diagnosed with dry eyes and MGD. My eyes are red, inflamed with mucus. I can not begin to tell you how much Theralife has made a difference for my eyes! I'm still currently using 3-4 capsules twice daily, along with fish oil, warm compresses and daily eye hygiene with lid scrubs. My eyes have been feeling great! Thank you so much for caring. " Sincerely, Elise, , United States *Results may vary

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