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Ask the Expert: Why are my eyes dry, red and irritated?

Answers provided by Dr. Mitchell Gossman, M.D., ophthalmologist at Eye Associates of Central Minnesota, St. Cloud

What causes the dryness and irritation of the eyes that I experience from time to time?

The surface of the eye requires moisture in order to be comfortable, and anything that results in dryness can cause symptoms of dry eye syndrome. You experience sandiness, foreign body sensation, dryness and soreness. It may be associated with redness as well. The most common cause of dry eyes is deficiency of tear production.

If my eyes are dry, why do I have excessive watering sometimes?

It does seem strange – dry eyes and yet intermittent watering! The eyes have two systems for tear production. One continually bathes the eyes with tears, all day and all night. The other is the main lacrimal gland which produces a rapid burst of tears. The purpose of this is to flush away a foreign body or eliminate noxious substances (like when slicing onions). What can happen is deficiency of the continual tear production results in your eye sensing that there may be a foreign body in the eye, the emergency tear production is triggered, and this produces excessive watering.

Dry eye syndrome can make the eyes very red and sore. Treatments are available to help people with this condition. Those treatments could include tear supplements, oral medications or devices to alter the amount of tear production or tear drainage. Stock photo

Why do my eyes get more irritated and blurry after reading awhile?

Anything that decreases the amount of moisture in the eye can result in surface dryness. When reading, we do not blink as often, so the tears evaporate more. You may have no trouble with moderate dry eyes under normal situations, but reading, wind, fans, and even the low humidity in a Minnesota winter result in more tear evaporation and worse dry eye symptoms. This dryness results in an irregular surface and blurry vision results.

What can be done for dry eyes?

All cases are different because the causes for dry eyes differ from patient to patient, so proper treatment depends on a medical history and eye examination. Dryness can be a result of tear deficiency, problems with the eyelids, a side effect of medications, and prior eye surgery. Treatments may include tear supplements (known as artificial tears, there are many different types), oral medications, eyedrops to enhance tear production and decrease inflammation, devices to decrease the outflow of tears into the tear drainage system, and devices that can increase tear production. Most patients can achieve a treatment plan that results in satisfactory comfort.

Is Visine a good artificial tear?

We do not recommend its use. Visine and other “get the red out” drops contain “vasoconstrictors” which constrict the surface blood vessels of the eye and make the eye whiter. The vasoconstrictor ingredient, while it can definitely temporarily make the eye whiter, causes chronic inflammation. Your eye becomes adapted to it, and when it’s discontinued, it causes the redness to rebound worse than before and with even worse symptoms. So, while it may be fine to use these drops rarely to whiten your red eyes for important photos and social occasions, it is not recommended for continued use.

Find Out More

Dr. Mitchell Gossman and Dr. Andrea Joplin, ophthalmologists at Eye Associates of Central Minnesota, can diagnose and treat dry eyes. The office is located at 628 Roosevelt Road, Suite 101, in St. Cloud. To make an appointment or to learn more, call 320-774-3789 or email

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