Waking up to a new day should feel refreshing, but for many, the morning brings an unwelcome companion: dry eyes. You might have experienced uncomfortable dry eye symptoms such as burning, blurry vision, and a scratchy feeling when you first open your eyes in the morning.
Dry eyes in the morning can result from several factors, including nocturnal lagophthalmos, poor quality tears, insufficient tears, low humidity, lifestyle factors, or medications. An eye exam can help assess your ocular health and determine the reasons behind your morning dry eyes for solutions that enhance visual comfort throughout the day.
Causes of Dry Eyes in the Morning
- Stinging or burning sensation
- Light sensitivity
- Blurry vision
- Stringy mucus
Tears & Eye Moisture
Tears are not just a sign of emotion; they also play an integral role in maintaining eye health. Your tears are a complex blend of water, oil, and mucous that help keep the eyes moist, nourished, and protected. A balanced tear film is essential for maintaining clear vision and preventing discomfort:
- Water layer: Hydrates and lubricates the eyes.
- Oil layer: Prevents evaporation of the tear film.
- Mucous layer: Helps spread the tears evenly over the eyes’ surface.
When the tear glands in your eyes produce insufficient tears, it can lead to dry eyes. Decreased tear production can result from:
- Age: Tear production decreases with age and is more common in people over 65 years.
- Medical conditions: Diabetes, thyroid conditions, or autoimmune conditions can cause low tear production.
- Medications: Antihistamines, decongestants, antidepressants, and blood pressure medications can affect tear production.
- Environment: Dry or windy environments can cause increased tear evaporation, leading to decreased tears.
- Hormonal changes: Menopause, pregnancy, and taking oral contraceptives can affect tear production.
Indoor Environment & Humidity
The indoor environment you sleep in can significantly impact your eye moisture levels. Air-conditioned or heated rooms can have low humidity levels that cause increased evaporation of tears from the eye’s surface.
Nocturnal lagophthalmos is a medical term that describes the condition where your eyelids don’t fully close during sleep. Sleeping with your eyes partially closed can lead to inadequate tear coverage and increased exposure of the eyes’ surface to the air.
As a result, tears evaporate more quickly, leaving you with dry, irritated eyes upon waking. If you suspect you might have nocturnal lagophthalmos, speak to your eye doctor for proper evaluation and guidance.
Meibomian Gland Dysfunction
The meibomian glands in your eyelids produce the oily layer that prevents excessive evaporation. Dysfunction of these glands can result in insufficient oil production, contributing to tear evaporation and dry eyes. Symptoms of meibomian gland dysfunction can feel worse in the morning.
Contact Lenses & Dry Eyes
If you wear contact lenses, you can be at an increased risk of experiencing dry eyes. Contact lenses can disrupt the tear film and contribute to quicker tear evaporation. To minimize morning dryness, speak to your eye doctor about switching to lenses designed for extended wear or alternative solutions.
Digital Devices & Nighttime Habits
In today’s digital age, it’s common to find yourself scrolling through your phone or working on a laptop before bedtime. Changes in blink dynamics are the accepted hypothesis linking digital screen usage and dry eyes.
Blinking helps replenish the tear film by distributing your tears over the eye’s surface. Looking at digital screens can reduce blink rate and blink completeness and thus increase dryness.
How to Treat Morning Dry Eyes
Your eye doctor can adequately treat your morning dry eyes by first diagnosing the underlying cause. They can do this by conducting an eye exam and discussing your medical history, medications you take, and lifestyle habits.
The following are treatment options your eye doctor may recommend if you experience dry eyes in the morning:
- Artificial eye drops: These are over-the-counter eye drops to help lubricate the eyes.
- Prescription eye drops: These can help your eyes produce more tears.
- Punctal plugs: These block the tear ducts and prevent tears from draining.
How to Help Prevent Dry Eyes in the Morning
Apart from treating the underlying cause of your dry eyes, you can take the following measures to prevent dry eyes in the morning:
- Use a humidifier in your bedroom.
- Limit the use of fans when you sleep.
- Take regular breaks and blink more when using a screen for long periods.
- Use lubricating eye gels before sleeping.
- Use warm compresses over closed eyes.
- Drink 8–10 glasses of water each day to stay well hydrated.
Dry Eye Treatment & Relief
Waking up with dry eyes doesn’t have to be a daily struggle. Understanding the various factors contributing to this discomfort empowers you to take proactive steps toward alleviating the issue.
Book an appointment with Willoughby Doctors of Optometry if you experience persistent dryness in the morning. We can provide personalized treatment so you can look forward to each day with a clear, comfortable vision.