I distinctly remember walking through the halls as a freshman with a severe case of dry eyes and one unhappy contact lens threatening to break free. My ferocious blinking was misinterpreted as flirty winking by a group of boys I passed and from that day on, they never missed an opportunity to remind me.
Fortunately, the trauma of high school is behind me. However the dry, gritty and burning feeling in my eyes is not. And for many people who deal with chronically dry eyes, it can be uncomfortable and disruptive to daily life.
Dr. Mark J. Mannis, president of the California Academy of Eye Physicians and Surgeons, explained to HuffPost what’s actually happening when we have dry eyes and if we’re inadvertently using products that make it worse.
He said that the protective film that coats the surface of the eye is made up of three layers, the two most important being the water layer and a fatty lipid layer that keeps the water layer from evaporating.
“If the glands of the eye make too little of either of these substances, a [person] experiences dry eye. This can be influenced by taking certain medications or failure of the eyelids to close properly,” Mannis said.
Dr. Natasha Herz, a clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, told HuffPost that it’s not just medications that cause dry eyes. It can also be related to a number of environmental factors which cause the natural tears produced by our bodies to evaporate quicker.
″Smoke and highly polluted environments may lead to dry eye, [as well as the] low humidity of windy weather,” she said.
And if find yourself staring at screens for a large portion of the day, Dr. Chantal Cousineau-Krieger of The National Eye Institute suggested that this is one of the worst things you can do to your eyes.
“When we look at those screens, we tend to blink much less than usual, so our eyes do not produce as many tears, leading to dryness. It’s always a good idea to follow the 20-20-20 rule.” she said. “Every 20 minutes, look at something at least 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds.”
Doing this, she says, will force your eyes to naturally blink more, generating natural tear production, while also reducing the strain associated with staring at screens.
Cousineau-Krieger added that eye drops that claim to reduce redness might actually be causing more redness down the line, namely because of the preservatives they contain. And if you are using blue-light blocking glasses hoping they’ll help with your dry eyes, she said, you might be wasting your time.
Although dry eye is treatable in most situations, according to Cousineau-Krieger, long term effects can potentially cause higher susceptibility to eye infections and inflammation in severe cases. She encourages speaking with a medical professional to explore prescription options if your symptoms still persist after you’ve tried over-the-counter solutions.
Keep reading to see some products our eye experts recommend that might help temporarily replace a loss of tears, add much-needed moisture and keep eyes hydrated and comfortable while you sleep.
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Preservative-free artificial tears to remoisten eyes
In line with Cousineau-Krieger's recommendation, it's best to stick with tear replacement drops that can mimic your natural tears without employing preservatives. This 50-pack of eye drop vials by Refresh are packed in individual vials to reduce the chance of bacteria growth and can instantly moisturize and and lubricate the surface of the eye.
A nighttime eye ointment to protect and soothe dry eyes while you sleep
If your eyes have ever felt so dry it was difficult to keep them closed as you slept, then Cousineau-Krieger said that a moisturizing eye ointment might be able to help. This long-lasting formula is preservative-free and acts as a shield over the surface of the eye to allow for healing. Just place it inside the lower lid before bed.
A pair of wraparound sunglasses to protect eyes in windy conditions
Herz said you can use wraparound glasses to protect your eyes from moisture loss, especially in outdoor windy areas. These stylish round glasses from Stoggles feature a protective side barrier that's transparent to reduce peripheral vision impact. They also come in nine colors, are prescription-compatible and have an anti-fog coating.
A moisturizing eye gel for irritated eyes
For stronger daytime dry eye relief when regular drops just aren’t cutting it, this everyday soothing eye gel by Refresh might do the trick. The slightly thicker drops are safe to use with contacts and help to coat the eye surface, relieving a number of symptoms like burning, stinging and redness.
A microwavable compress to relieve dryness in between screen time
Dr. Hakop Khurdajian
, a Los Angeles-based optometrist, said that applying warm compresses on your eyes three or four times each day for about 5 to 10 minutes each is one of the best ways you can relieve dry eye symptoms without the use of medication. The heat helps to open the glands in the eye and promote greater oil flow, instantly reducing that gritty feeling.
Once microwaved for about 20 seconds, this washable and anti-bacterial eye mask can help relax strained and dry eyes with the help of heat-holding beads.
A germ-free humidifier to boost moisture in the room
Running air conditioners in the summer or heaters in the winter can zap moisture from the air. Cousineau-Krieger said it might be helpful to place a humidifier in your room or office.
The Milan produces cool mist while also providing EPA-approved air sterilization technology that destroys harmful germs and bacteria in the air, as well as in the water it's atomizing. The large-capacity tank means longer run times, and three different mist modes give customized levels of air moisture.
A water bottle that helps you to drink more water
Cousineau-Krieger said that drinking more water is essential when it comes to eye hydration. This can be tricky if you're a busy person or someone who forgets to drink water throughout the day.
This 21-ounce vacuum-insulated water bottle is made from odor-resistant and shatter-proof stainless steel. The HidrateSpark Pro's most impressive feature, though, is its Bluetooth capability, which allows you to track your water intake, set daily goals or even challenge friends through an app. The LED sensor at the bottom also starts to glow when it's time to take a drink, and it contains a location tracker so you never lose your bottle.
A high-quality air purifier to reduce potential eye irritants in the air
"Try using a high-quality air filter at home to reduce the effects of dry or polluted air," Herz said. (Rad more about how air purifiers work
The Blueair Blue Pure 211+ is a reasonably priced purifier that’s suitable for spaces of up to 540 square feet. It uses an activated carbon filter to effectively grab particles, particularly dust, smoke and allergens that can potentially cause eye irritation. It also contains a second machine-washable filter specifically for capturing larger particles in air and has an indicator that lets you know when it's time to change the filter.
An omega-rich supplement that should only be taken if approved by your doctor
"Ask your ophthalmologist if you should take omega-3 fatty acid supplements," Herz said. "Omega-3 fatty acids can also be found naturally in foods like fish and flax seeds, and may help reduce dry eye symptoms."
While supplements might not be an option for everyone, these fish oil soft gel capsules are made from strict and carefully selected ingredients that have been purified to remove potential traces of mercury or other contaminants.