THE LINK BETWEEN BLURRY VISION AND DRY EYES
Exploring the Link
The eyes are one of our most vital sensory organs, and their health is paramount. Many people experience dry eyes and blurry vision, making them wonder if there's a connection between them.
This article will explore the relationship between dry eyes and blurry vision, discuss the symptoms and causes, and provide guidance on prevention and treatment. We'll also touch upon other causes of blurry vision, ensuring a comprehensive understanding of this widespread issue.
The Link Between Blurry Vision & Dry Eyes
Dry eyes and blurry vision are interconnected because the tear film, a layer of moisture covering the eye's surface, plays a crucial role in maintaining clear vision. The tear film comprises three layers: an oily outer layer, a watery middle layer, and a mucin inner layer. This composition helps keep the eye moist, removes debris, and ensures a smooth optical surface for light to pass through.
When the tear film is disrupted or becomes unstable, it can cause the eye to become dry, leading to blurry vision. This can occur due to an imbalance in the tear film's components, insufficient tear production, or excessive tear evaporation.
Symptoms of Blurry Vision & Dry Eyes
A disrupted or unstable tear film can lead to an irregular refractive surface, causing light to scatter instead of focusing correctly on the retina. This results in reduced visual acuity and the experience of blurred or hazy vision.
When the tear film (watch MTHK eye surgeon's short video) is inadequate, the ocular surface may not be sufficiently lubricated, leading to a sensation of dryness or grittiness. This is often caused by an imbalance in the tear film's components (lipid, aqueous, and mucin layers), insufficient tear production (aqueous deficiency), or excessive tear evaporation (evaporative dry eye).
Inflammation of the ocular surface and surrounding tissues, known as conjunctival hyperemia, can occur due to dry eyes. This inflammation results in blood vessel dilation, causing the eyes to appear red and irritated.
The lack of a stable tear film can expose the ocular surface to the environment and irritants, causing discomfort in the form of a burning or itching sensation.
Dry eyes can compromise the corneal epithelium, which protects the underlying layers of the cornea. This damage can increase sensitivity to light as the corneal nerves become more susceptible to external stimuli.
An unstable tear film and a dry ocular surface can make wearing contact lenses uncomfortable or even painful. Insufficient lubrication between the lens and the eye can cause friction and irritation, leading to difficulty tolerating contact lenses for extended periods.
Dry eyes and blurry vision can cause the ocular muscles to work harder to maintain focus, leading to eye fatigue or strain. This strain can manifest as headaches, difficulty focusing, or discomfort in or around the eyes.
Paradoxically, dry eyes can trigger a compensatory mechanism known as reflex tearing (watch MTHK eye surgeon's short video), where the lacrimal glands produce excessive tears in response to the ocular surface's dryness. However, these reflex tears are often of poor quality and do not provide the necessary lubrication and protection, leading to a continuous cycle of dryness and excessive tearing.
People with dry eyes may experience fluctuations in their vision throughout the day. These fluctuations are often related to changes in tear film stability and can worsen with prolonged screen use or exposure to dry environments.
Dry eyes can lead to an overproduction of mucus by the goblet cells in the conjunctiva. This mucus can accumulate in the eye and cause blurry vision or be visible as stringy or filmy discharge.
The lack of a stable tear film can cause you to feel like there is a foreign body or a "speck of dust" in the eye, even when no foreign object is present.
“As we age, physiological changes cause a decrease in tear production. This reduction increases the likelihood of dry eyes and blurry vision.”
The Causes of Blurry Vision & Dry Eyes
- Age: As we age, physiological changes occur in the lacrimal glands, leading to decreased tear production (a condition known as keratoconjunctivitis sicca). This reduction increases the likelihood of dry eyes and blurry vision. Age-related meibomian gland dysfunction can also contribute to tear film instability, exacerbating dry eye symptoms.
- Medical conditions: Various medical conditions can affect tear production and the overall health of the ocular surface. Examples include autoimmune diseases such as Sjogren's Syndrome or rheumatoid arthritis, which can cause lacrimal gland inflammation and reduced tear secretion. Other conditions, like diabetes, thyroid disorders, and Blepharitis, can also contribute to dry eyes and blurry vision.
- Medications: Certain medications can reduce tear secretion or alter the composition of the tear film, causing dry eyes and blurry vision. These medications include antihistamines, decongestants, antidepressants, diuretics, beta-blockers, and oral contraceptives.
The Causes of Blurry Vision & Dry Eyes (continued)
- Environmental factors: Dry, windy, or smoky conditions can cause increased tear evaporation, leading to an unstable tear film and subsequent dry eyes and blurry vision. Environmental factors such as air conditioning, heating systems, and exposure to allergens or chemical irritants can exacerbate these issues.
- Prolonged screen use: Staring at digital screens for extended periods can result in a reduced blink rate and incomplete blinking, contributing to tear film instability and dry eyes. This phenomenon is known as computer vision syndrome or digital eye strain.
- Contact lens wear: Prolonged contact lens use can disrupt the tear film and ocular surface, leading to dry eyes and blurry vision. Additionally, certain types of contact lenses may be more prone to causing dryness or irritation.
The Causes of Blurry Vision & Dry Eyes (continued)
- Refractive eye surgeries: Procedures such as Laser Eye Surgery (LASIK & PRK) can temporarily or permanently affect tear production and the corneal nerves, resulting in dry eyes and potential blurry vision.
- Meibomian Gland Dysfunction (MGD): Blocked or dysfunctional meibomian glands can disrupt the lipid layer of the tear film, leading to increased tear evaporation and dry eyes. MGD is a common cause of evaporative dry eye.
- Hormonal changes: Hormonal fluctuations, particularly in women during pregnancy, menopause, perimenopause, or while using oral contraceptives, can impact tear production and cause dry eyes.
- Nutritional deficiencies: Inadequate intake of essential fatty acids, such as omega-3 and omega-6, can negatively affect tear film composition and ocular surface health, contributing to dry eyes and blurry vision.
“Certain medications can reduce tear secretion or alter the composition of the tear film, causing dry eyes and blurry vision”
Other Causes of Blurry Vision
Refractive errors occur when the eye's shape prevents light from focusing correctly on the retina. Common refractive errors include nearsightedness (Myopia), farsightedness (Hyperopia), and Astigmatism, all of which can cause blurry vision. Presbyopia, an age-related condition affecting near vision, can lead to blurriness when performing close-up tasks.
Cataracts are characterised by the clouding of the eye's natural lens, which occurs due to the clumping of proteins. This clouding scatters light entering the eye, leading to progressively blurred, hazy, or dim vision. Cataracts can also cause increased glare sensitivity and reduced contrast sensitivity.
Glaucoma is a group of eye disorders involving increased intraocular pressure (IOP) that can damage the optic nerve, leading to vision loss. The progressive loss of retinal ganglion cells and their axons in glaucoma can cause blurry vision, blind spots, or even total blindness if left untreated.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a progressive eye condition that affects the macula, the central part of the retina responsible for sharp, central vision. AMD can cause blurred, distorted, or wavy vision, as well as the appearance of dark or empty areas in the central visual field.
Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes resulting from high blood sugar levels damaging the blood vessels in the retina. Symptoms may include floaters, dark spots, fluctuating vision, and difficulty perceiving colours. In the early stages, diabetic retinopathy may cause mild blurry vision, but as the condition progresses, it can lead to vision loss.
The separation of the retina from the underlying layer of blood vessels (choroid) can cause blurry vision, as well as sudden flashes of light, floaters, or a dark curtain-like shadow over the visual field. Retinal detachment is a medical emergency that can lead to permanent vision loss if not treated promptly.
Inflammation of the optic nerve can cause sudden blurry vision, usually in one eye, and pain upon eye movement. Optic neuritis may be associated with multiple sclerosis or other autoimmune conditions, infections, or exposure to certain medications or toxins.
Conditions affecting the cornea, such as keratoconus, corneal scarring, or corneal dystrophies, can cause distorted or blurry vision by altering the cornea's shape and transparency. Infections or injuries to the cornea can also result in vision problems.
Also known as "lazy eye," amblyopia occurs when one eye does not develop properly during childhood, leading to reduced visual acuity and blurry vision in the affected eye. If not treated early, amblyopia can result in permanent vision loss.
Some medications, including those for heart disease, high blood pressure, and certain psychiatric conditions, can cause temporary or permanent blurry vision as a side effect.
“The 20-20-20 rule - every 20 minutes, look away from your screen and focus on something 20 feet away for 20 seconds”
How to Prevent Blurry Vision & Dry Eyes
Ensure you blink regularly, especially when using digital devices, as blinking helps maintain tear film stability and ocular surface lubrication. The 20-20-20 rule—taking a 20-second break to look at something 20 feet away every 20 minutes—can also help reduce digital eye strain and dry eyes.
Maintaining an optimal humidity level (between 30% and 50%) with a humidifier can help reduce tear evaporation and promote a stable tear film, preventing dry eyes and blurry vision. Additionally, consider placing plants around your living or working space, as they can naturally increase humidity.
Drinking plenty of water is essential for overall health, including maintaining proper tear production and ocular surface hydration. Aim for at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water daily, or follow your doctor's or GP's recommendations.
Wear wraparound sunglasses to protect your eyes from dry, windy, or smoky environments. If possible, avoid direct exposure to air conditioning or heating vents, as they can contribute to increased tear evaporation.
Omega-3 fatty acids in foods such as fish, flaxseed, chia seeds, and walnuts support tear production and overall eye health. Consider incorporating these foods into your diet or taking a high-quality omega-3 supplement (and follow your doctor's or GP's recommendations).
Proper contact lens hygiene protocols, such as cleaning and disinfecting lenses regularly, can help reduce the risk of dry eyes and blurry vision. Additionally, consider using daily disposable lenses or switching to a lens material specifically designed for dry eyes.
Adjusting your digital devices' brightness (watch MTHK eye surgeon's short video), contrast, and text size can help reduce eye strain and minimise the risk of dry eyes and blurry vision. Additionally, consider using blue light-blocking filters or glasses to protect your eyes from the potentially harmful effects of blue light exposure.
Regular breaks and physical activity can help improve blood circulation, which is essential for maintaining eye health. Try incorporating eye exercises or short walks into your daily routine to rest your eyes and promote overall well-being.
Regular eye exams can help detect and address potential eye issues before they become significant problems. An eye care professional can provide personalised recommendations for preventing dry eyes and blurry vision based on your circumstances.
Addressing and managing underlying health conditions, such as diabetes, thyroid disorders, or autoimmune diseases, can help reduce the risk of developing dry eyes and blurry vision.
Blurry Vision & Dry Eye Treatment
- Artificial tears: Over-the-counter lubricating, preservative-free eye drops & sprays can help restore moisture to the eye and alleviate blurry vision associated with dry eyes.
- Prescription eye drops: In some cases, prescription eye drops may be necessary to reduce inflammation or increase tear production.
- Warm compresses: Applying a warm compress to the eyes can help stimulate tear production and alleviate symptoms.
- Lid hygiene: Maintaining proper eyelid hygiene by gently cleaning the lids and lashes with a warm, damp cloth can help prevent debris buildup and support tear film stability.
Blurry Vision & Dry Eye Treatment (continued)
- Specialist Supplements with Maqui berry: clinical tests have shown that Maqui Berry may improve the quality and quantity of tear production, improving your Tear Break-Up Time (TBUT). See MTHK's Eye Vitamins with Maqui Berry. (Test your Tear Break-Up Time (TBUT).)
- Treatment of underlying causes: Addressing any medical conditions or medications contributing to dry eyes may help alleviate blurry vision.
- Punctal plugs: In more severe cases, a doctor may recommend punctal plugs, small devices inserted into the tear ducts to reduce tear drainage and increase moisture on the eye's surface.
Dry eyes can cause blurry vision, as the tear film's stability and composition are crucial for maintaining clear sight. Symptoms of dry eyes and blurry vision often overlap, and several factors can contribute to these conditions, including age, medical conditions, medications, and environmental factors.
While dry eyes are a common cause of blurry vision, it's essential to be aware of other potential causes, such as refractive errors, cataracts, glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration (AMD), and diabetic retinopathy.
EYE HEALTH GUIDES FROM OUR EYE SURGEONS & SCIENTISTS
Blurry Vision - Resources & References
- American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO). (2019). Dry Eye Syndrome - Symptoms and Causes. Retrieved from https://www.aao.org/eye-health/diseases/dry-eye-syndrome-symptoms-causes
- American Optometric Association (AOA). (n.d.). Dry Eye. Retrieved from https://www.aoa.org/healthy-eyes/eye-and-vision-conditions/dry-eye
- The National Eye Institute (NEI). (2019). Facts About Dry Eye.
- The National Eye Institute (NEI). (2019). Facts About Cataracts. Retrieved from https://www.nei.nih.gov/learn-about-eye-health/resources-for-health-educators/eye-health-data-and-statistics/cataract-data-and-statistics
- The National Eye Institute (NEI). (2019). Facts About Glaucoma. Retrieved from https://www.nei.nih.gov/learn-about-eye-health/resources-for-health-educators/eye-health-data-and-statistics/glaucoma-data-and-statistics
- The National Eye Institute (NEI). (2019). Facts About Age-Related Macular Degeneration. Retrieved from https://www.nei.nih.gov/learn-about-eye-health/resources-for-health-educators/eye-health-data-and-statistics/age-related-macular-degeneration-amd-data-and-statistics
- The National Eye Institute (NEI). (2019). Facts About Diabetic Eye Disease.
- American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO). (2017). What Are Punctal Plugs? Retrieved from https://www.aao.org/eye-health/treatments/what-are-punctal-plugs
- Mayo Clinic. (2020). Dry Eyes. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dry-eyes/symptoms-causes/syc-20371863
- Cleveland Clinic. (2020). Dry Eye Syndrome. Retrieved from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/17749-dry-eye-syndrome