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Can Dry Eyes Cause Blurry Vision?

Close-up of text reading Diagnosis Dry Eyes listed on piece of paper with glasses and a dropper bottle placed on top of it.

Dry eyes can be a real pain, interfering with your vision and eye comfort. And it seems they can come on from nearly any activity: using a computer screen, taking a walk on a windy day, even wearing contact lenses.

But is your blurred vision linked to your dry eye syndrome? Potentially. Let’s delve into the details around dry eyes, blurred vision, and how your optometrist can help.

Understanding Dry Eye Syndrome

Dry eye syndrome occurs when your tears are either low in volume or poor quality. Dry eye syndrome is a widespread condition: nearly 16 million Americans report suffering from dry eye symptoms

The high number of dry eye cases isn’t that surprising when you consider that dry eyes can be caused by many factors, including:

The Makeup of Tears

Our tears are a major player in dry eye syndrome. Did you know humans have multiple types of tears? They each serve their own purpose.

Emotional tears are the tears we produce when we cry because we’re sad, angry, frustrated, or overwhelmed with happiness. These tears have hormones that aren’t found in other types of tears. There’s evidence that emotional tears promote social bonding and relieve stress

Reflex tears well up in response to outside stimulus, like when something gets in your eye. They also show up when you cough too hard or vomit. These tears are mostly water, designed to keep the eyes’ surface clean and protected from foreign objects. These tears are sometimes overproduced when you’re suffering from dry eye, which results in watery eyes.

Finally, and perhaps most crucially, are basal tears. These are produced in small amounts constantly to help protect the eyes and ensure the clearest vision. Basal tears can be broken down into 3 layers:

  • The inner layer is mucousy & helps ensure our eyes tears cling to our eyes
  • The middle ear is watery & responsible for keeping the eye clean & clear of debris, as well as making sure it stays moist
  • The outer layer is oily & helps make sure blinking is smooth & the rest of the tear layers don’t evaporate from the eye too quickly
Illustrated cross section comparison between the tissue of a normal eye and dry eye. The left image shows the normal eye with the 'tear film' composed of lipid, aqueous, and mucin layers which protect the cornea. The right image shows a decreased tear film which exposes the cornea and creates a dry spot.

Tears & Your Vision

So, can dry eye lead to blurry vision? Yes, it absolutely can—and the link between dry eyes and blurry vision lies in the disruption of our tears. 

Imagine your eye as a camera lens—light enters the cornea, heads through the pupil, and hits the photosensitive retina. Signals are sent to the brain, where they’re ordered into an image. Tears work to keep the eye’s surface smooth and glossy, which allows light to refract without interference.

Problems with the tears can lead to dry patches on the cornea, which may destabilize your vision and make it blurry.

Blurry Eyes & Other Symptoms

Along with its large number of causes, dry eye syndrome has multiple symptoms that can interfere with eye comfort and function. Blurred vision is one, and other symptoms can include:

  • Burning eyes
  • An aching sensation
  • Difficulty keeping eyes open
  • Eye fatigue
  • Sore eyes
  • Red eyes
  • Light sensitivity
  • The feeling that there’s something in the eye
  • Slight mucus discharge in or around the eye
  • Discomfort when wearing contact lenses

These symptoms can be indicative of dry eye, but also of other eye conditions and diseases that may be more serious. Visit your optometrist to make sure your vision is guarded whenever symptoms occur. 

Dry Eye Therapies 

If you’re struggling with blurry vision caused by dry eye syndrome, an optometrist can help. Not only will they be able to give you a comprehensive eye exam to ensure there’s not something else behind your dry eyes and blurred vision, but they can also offer dry eye therapy.

Some commonly prescribed dry eye therapies are punctal plugs and medication. Medication can help reduce inflammation and correct problems with the tears. Punctal plugs are inserted into the tear ducts to slow tear drainage, allowing your eyes to retain moisture.

Other Causes of Dry Eyes & Blurry Vision 

Other conditions may be the cause of both blurry vision and dry eyes. These include chronic conditions like:

If underlying conditions are discovered during your eye exam, your optometrist can provide further care, counsel, or a referral to a specialist.

Don’t Let Dry Eyes Compromise Clear Vision

Dry eyes don’t have to get in the way of good vision. If you are experiencing blurry vision or dry eyes, visit 20/20 Vision Associates Optometry. We are happy to find solutions that offer you your clearest vision and best overall eye health.

Written by Dr. Cheryl Everitt

Cheryl M. Everitt, OD, received her Doctor of Optometry degree from the Southern California College of Optometry in Fullerton, California in 1994. She holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from California State University, Fullerton. Dr. Everitt takes a special interest in treating patients with a variety of difficult eye conditions, such as chronic headaches and migraines. Dr. Everitt has been a conference speaker on topics ranging from contact lenses to practice management to trigeminal dysphoria. She has also participated in a mobile eye clinic in Riverside, and medical missions to Mexico. Dr. Everitt is one of the original founders of 20/20 Vision Associates Optometry and has practiced for 25 years. She was an associate research scientist for 4 years prior to becoming an optometrist. She is also an active member of her church.
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