Dry eye can range from mild discomfort to vision loss. How the condition progresses is different for each person.

Dry eye occurs when the eyes do not make enough tears or the tears do not work well enough to keep the eyes healthy and lubricated. The condition can affect one or both eyes and ranges from mild to severe.

Aging eyes naturally make fewer tears. Hormone changes during pregnancy and menopause can also reduce tear production.

Other possible causes of dry eye include:

  • conditions such as diabetes, thyroid disease, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and Sjögren disease
  • dry or windy environments
  • laser eye surgery (LASIK)
  • looking at a computer screen for a long period
  • medications that treat colds and allergies, high blood pressure, heartburn, and depression
  • wearing contact lenses for long periods

Sometimes, symptoms improve after treating the underlying condition or when a person stops taking a medication that has resulted in dry eye. In other cases, dry eye progresses or worsens over time.

Eventually, dry eye can damage the eyes. Treating the condition helps relieve symptoms and slow progression.

Learn how dry eye symptoms can change over time using the Condition Progression Guide below.

Dry eye symptoms include burning, tearing, light sensitivity, and a gritty feeling in the eyes. The progression of the condition goes from mild to moderate to severe.

The mildest stage may be treatable with artificial tears or moisturizing gels. If these over-the-counter remedies are not enough to relieve symptoms, other treatments may help, including anti-inflammatory eye drops and surgery.

An ophthalmologist can recommend the appropriate treatment for each stage of dry eye.