Allergies, environmental factors, and reduced blinking may all cause sudden dry eyes. Home treatments and lifestyle changes will usually help resolve dry eye symptoms.

Factors such as exposure to dry or windy environments, staring at a screen, and certain medications can all cause sudden dry eyes. Certain home remedies may help to ease dry eye symptoms. If dry eyes continue, it may indicate an underlying condition.

This article looks at the possible causes of sudden dry eyes. It also discusses treatments and when to contact a doctor for the condition.

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Eye allergies may cause sudden dry eye symptoms, such as burning, stinging, redness, and increased tear production.

Allergens and other substances in the environment can enter the eyes, leading to eye allergies. These include:

  • pollen
  • dust
  • mold
  • pet dander
  • smoke
  • perfume
  • cosmetics

It is possible for a person to have an eye allergy and dry eye disease at the same time. These conditions have overlapping features, and one may cause or worsen the other. For example, changes to the eye due to an eye allergy may lead to dry eye, such as changes to the tear film. In some cases, a dry eye may worsen allergic reactions.

According to a 2020 study, oral antihistamines may also worsen dry eye. These include medications such as benadryl.

Read more about dry eyes due to allergies.

A lack of blinking may cause sudden dry eyes.

When people blink, a thin film of tears is spread across the eye’s surface, keeping it lubricated. Blinking also helps clear away particles that enter the eye.

Activities that require the eyes to focus for prolonged periods can cause people to blink less regularly. Examples include:

  • reading
  • using a computer, tablet, or phone
  • close-up work

Learn about blinking exercises for dry eyes.

Certain environments can dry out the eyes by increasing tear evaporation. People may experience a sudden drying of the eyes due to:

  • wind
  • air blowing into the eyes, such as through a car window
  • smoke
  • dusty environments
  • dry air or dry climates
  • air conditioning
  • indoor heating

Flying may dry out the eyes and cause discomfort, particularly for people who wear contact lenses. This may be especially true on longer flights.

Other low-humidity environments may also dry out the eyes. These can include shopping malls, hospitals, or large offices. Being at a high altitude or in an area with high air pollution may also increase the risk.

Learn about humidifiers to treat dry eyes.

People may experience sudden dry eyes as a side effect of certain medications, including:

Sleep apnea masks may also cause sudden dry eyes. Even well-fitting masks can allow air to leak out and dry the eyes.

People can try the following methods to help ease dry eye symptoms and prevent them from occurring:

  • Use artificial tears: Over-the-counter artificial tear eye drops help replace tears in the eyes. People can apply drops whenever they need them. Preservative-free eye drops may be less irritating.
  • Protect the eyes from wind: Wearing wraparound sunglasses can help protect the eyes when outdoors. Indoors, they can help avoid exposing the eyes to fans and hair dryers.
  • Avoid smoke: Smoking can increase the risk of developing dry eyes, and smoke can irritate the eyes. People can limit exposure by avoiding secondhand smoke and taking steps to quit smoking, if they smoke.
  • Remember to blink: Looking at a screen, watching television, or reading may cause dry eyes. Taking breaks to rest the eyes and blinking frequently can prevent them from drying out.
  • Place a warm compress over the eyes: Gently placing a warm compress over the eyes helps the eyelid glands release oil, which improves tear quality. Carefully cleaning the eyelids may also help. A person can do this using a clean washcloth, soap, and warm water, then rinsing well afterwards.
  • Omega 3 intake: Increasing omega-3 fatty acids in the diet or taking omega-3 supplements may help ease dry eye symptoms. Natural sources of omega-3 in foods include salmon, other oily fish, and flaxseed.

Learn more about treating dry eyes naturally.

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If dry eyes persist or do not resolve with home treatments, people should contact a doctor. Dry eyes can sometimes indicate an underlying medical condition, such as diabetes, thyroid dysfunction, or rheumatoid arthritis.

If someone suspects a medication may be causing dry eyes, they should talk with a doctor. The doctor may advise about altering the dosage or type of medication.

How do I stop my eyes from drying out overnight?

If people wake up with dry eyes, they can try using thick artificial tears before sleep. These come in the form of an ointment or eye drops.

Lubricating gels for dry eyes may also help prevent them from drying out. These are best applied before bed because they can cause temporary symptoms, such as blurred vision.

Can dry eyes go back to normal?

Dry eyes due to environmental factors may resolve once a person leaves that environment. This can include exposure to windy or dry conditions.

Artificial tears may help manage mild cases of dry eye and help resolve symptoms.

If dry eyes do not respond to home methods, a person may need more advanced treatment. Examples include prescription eye drops and blocking the tear ducts with tiny devices called punctal plugs.

Can drinking water help dry eyes?

Avoiding dehydration by drinking plenty of water may help to prevent dry eyes. According to the American Optometric Association (AOA), people should aim to drink around 8–10 glasses of water per day.

People may develop sudden dry eyes due to allergens, environmental factors, or certain medications.

Treatments include using artificial tears before bed, protecting the eyes from the environment, and taking breaks from activities that require intense focus.

If dry eyes do not improve with home treatment, people should contact a doctor.