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It might not necessarily sound like it, but having tears in your eyes is a good thing: Healthy eyes contain a layer of tears made up of oil, water, and mucus that nourishes and cleans them and protects them from damage. “Too little of any of those components can cause dry eye and sensations like burning, grittiness, and blurry vision,” says Ahmed Omar, M.D., Ph.D., codirector of the Dry Eye Center at University Hospitals Eye Institute in Cleveland. A variety of ordinary things can cause tears to dry up: staring at digital screens for too long, taking medications (such as antihistamines) with dry eye as a side effect, being exposed to airborne irritants, and good ol’ aging. “Oil- and water-secreting glands in the eyes slow their output over time, which is why dry eye becomes more common with age,” says Dr. Omar. The happy news is that dry eye can be controlled—here’s how to treat and prevent dry eyes.
How to Treat Dry Eyes
Pamper your peepers
Lay a clean washcloth soaked in warm water on your eyes, or wear a heated eye mask twice a day for 10 minutes, to loosen crusting and melt congealed oils that can clog tear glands; then, to clear accumulated oil, gently massage your eyelids for 30 seconds using a clean washcloth or clean fingers and baby shampoo. Or try an OTC eyelid cleanser such as Ocusoft, which contains hypochlorous acid, a natural antibacterial agent that can help get rid of debris and reduce inflammation.
Try eye drops
Over-the-counter artificial tears can help keep eyes moist (look for “lubrication” rather than “redness relief”); at night, try ointments or gels, which last longer but may blur vision. Need drops more than four times daily? Talk to a doc about prescription ones that improve tear production by taming inflammation.
See an ophthalmologist
Your doctor can plug the tiny holes in tear ducts to prevent tears from draining away—“a very quick, painless in-office procedure,” Dr. Omar says. Another option might be custom tears made from your blood plasma.
How to Prevent Dry Eyes
Position your laptop or phone so you’re looking slightly down at it rather than up or directly at the screen. Eyes relax more in a slight downward gaze, and eyelids close a bit, making for more complete blinking and reduced tear evaporation, says Annie Nguyen, M.D., an assistant professor of clinical ophthalmology at the University of Southern California Roski Eye Institute. Matching screen brightness to ambient light and taking regular breaks also eases eyestrain.
Avoid blowing air
Face away from AC vents or fans—moving air sweeps moisture from your eyes. If you have an AC vent near your bed, wear a sleep mask and consider running a humidifier. And shield your eyes with wraparound sunglasses on windy days, Dr. Nguyen says.
Eat for your eyes
Load up on picks rich in vitamin A, like leafy greens; this vitamin helps stabilize and repair the surface of the eye so it’s better at producing and retaining tears. And stay hydrated so your eyes will always have an ample supply of fluid.
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