Posted by: Bryan B. | August 14, 2011

What medical conditions or medications can cause dry eye?

Many different medical conditions can cause dry eye. Some conditions actually rob your body of moisture and the eye is the easiest place for the problem to manifest, and others will exacerbate an already dry eye, making the condition worse. Eye Care compiled a list of common conditions that can cause dry eye.

  • Aging – Most women who experience dry eye in association with menopause. Hormone replacement therapy, pregnancy, lactation and menstruation may also increase dry eye symptoms. Read more about dry eye & aging.
  • Sjogren’s Syndrome – Sjogren’s Syndrome is a non-life threatening, yet devastating disease that causes excessive dryness throughout your body. Its victims are mainly women, and unfortunately Sjogren’s is often misdiagnosed as menopause. Sjogren’s
    causes extreme dryness in the eyes and mouth, as well as other locations in the body.   (Read our previous posts about Sjogren’s:
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis – Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that causes chronic inflammation of the joints. Rheumatoid arthritis can also cause inflammation of the tissue around the joints, as well as in other organs in the body. Inflammation occurs also around that eyes and mouth, which causes both to dry out excessively.
  • Collagen Vascular Disease – Collagen is a tough, glue-like protein that represents 30% of body protein and shapes the structure of tendons, bones, and connective tissues. When an immune system does not function properly, it can affect these structures and becomes known as collagen vascular disease. Excessive dryness of the eyes is a common symptom of this disease.
  • Dry Tear Film– Your tear film has 3 layers: oil, water and mucus. Problems with any one of these layers can create dry eyes. Here’s a glimpse at all three:
    • Oil: The outer layer, produced by small glands on the edge of your eyelids (Meibomian glands), contains fatty oils called lipids. These smooth the tear surface and slow evaporation of the middle watery layer. When the oil layer is abnormal, the watery layer evaporates too quickly.
    • Water: The middle layer, which is by far the thickest layer, is mostly water with a little bit of salt. This layer, produced by the tear glands (lacrimal glands) cleanses your eyes and washes away foreign particles or irritants.
    • Mucus: The inner layer of mucus allows tears to spread evenly over the surface of your eyes. Dry spots form easily in any part of the front surface of the eye (cornea) that has patchy loss of the mucus layer.
  • Eye Abnormalities – Some people are born with structural problems within their eyes, and some people begin experiencing eye problems as they grow older. In some cases, eyelids don’t close properly which allows for excessive tear evaporation. Other cases involve problems with the tear ducts not producing tears. Poor blink functions can also decrease the continuous spread of  tears throughout the eye, which helps keep it moist.
  • LASIK – Refractive eye surgeries such as laser-assisted in-situ keratomileusis (LASIK) also may cause decreased tear production and dry eye. Fortunately, symptoms of dry eye related to these procedures are usually temporary.

Just like some medical conditions, some medications will also dry out your eyes. The following list is compiled from Eye Care and

  • Antihistamines – Antihistamines and decongestants may help reduce allergies, but studies show that these drugs also contribute to decrease of tear film production. Zyrtec and Claritin are the most popular antihistamines used.
  • Antidepressants – Antidepressants are known to cause dry eye. Celexa, Lexepro, Zoloft, Wellbutrin, and Paxil are all antidepressants that have reportedly made conditions worse.
  • Sleeping Pills – Side effects including dizziness, confusion, drowsiness the next day, dry mouth and dry eyes. Over-the-counter sleep aids, as well as prescription sleep aids will cause these side effects.
  • Birth Control Pills – Many pills list dry eye as a side effect, mainly because birth control pills mess with your hormones. They say stop the pills, and stop the dryness. However, unfortunately, pregnancy is also known to cause dry eyes.
  • Diuretics – Diuretics are primarily used to treat high blood pressure. They increase excretion of salt and water, so it makes sense that they can also cause dry eye.
  • ACE Inhibitors – Angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors are also used to treat high blood pressure and can cause dry eye.
  • Opiates – Opiate-based medicines such as morphine help treat extreme pain but can also cause dry eye.
  • Isotretinoin – Isotretinoin, or Accutane, can also cause dry eye symptoms. Dermatologists prescribe this medication to treat severe acne and psoriasis.


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