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What causes dry eyes?

Answers by Dr. Melanie Thares, an optometrist at Eye Associates of Central Minnesota, located in St. Cloud

A common cause of eye irritation in the winter months in Minnesota is dry eyes. This happens when the eyes are not producing enough tears or due to poor quality tears that evaporate too quickly. Stock photo

One of the most common causes of eye irritation during the winter months here in Minnesota is dry eyes. Just about every single person is affected by dry eyes whether they are symptomatic or not. Dry eyes is a result of the eyes not producing enough tears or due to poor quality tears that evaporate too quickly.

Symptoms of dry eyes can include a foreign body sensation such as a sandy or gritty feeling, stringy mucous, burning, and redness. Dryness can also cause watery eyes. When our eyes are dry, they send a signal to the brain to produce more tears, resulting in our eyes becoming temporarily watery. Along with irritation, dryness can also affect our vision. It can cause blurred vision, visual distortions, and light sensitivity. When we blink, tears are spread across the front surface of the eye which results in clearer vision.

There are many things that can cause dry eyes. Patients that are 50 years or older are at higher risk of developing dry eyes due to decreased tear production with age. Females are also at higher risk of developing dry eyes due to lack of tear production secondary to hormone changes that occur at all ages of life. Contact lens wearers and individuals who have had LASIK are at a higher risk of developing dryness due to a loss of corneal nerves that tell our bodies to produce more tears. Other things that can put an individual at risk include diet, autoimmune conditions, and certain medications.

There are many treatment options for dry eyes that can help with different levels of severity. The first line of treatment for dry eyes includes artificial tears. Artificial tears are drops that can help keep the eyes lubricated. These eye drops can be found at most stores such as Walmart, Target, and CVS. Warm compresses are another form of first line of treatment. Applying a warm wash cloth to the eyelids for at least 10 minutes will help to express the oil glands within the eyelids that help keep tears from evaporating too quickly. If these two forms of treatment do not work to improve the symptoms of dry eyes, there are more invasive treatments available such as punctal occlusion, prescription drops, and amniotic membranes.

Dry eyes is best diagnosed and treated by your local eye doctor. During a comprehensive eye exam, they will assess the amount of tears, the quality of tears, and the glands that produce tears.

Find out more

Dr. Mitchell Gossman is a comprehensive ophthalmologist, along with Dr. Melanie Thares, an optometrist, at Eye Associates of Central Minnesota. 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

“Ask the Expert” is sponsored content (paid advertising) provided by Eye Associates of Central Minnesota. To learn how your business can promote its products and services like this, contact Sr. Perspective at 320-334-3344.

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