Waking up with irritated, dry eyes is a common complaint. Morning eye dryness affects millions of people worldwide. While it may seem like a minor nuisance, chronic dry eyes can lead to permanent damage and vision problems. Luckily, morning eye dryness is treatable with some simple lifestyle changes and eye care techniques.
What Causes Dry Eyes in the Morning?
There are several reasons why you may experience dry, uncomfortable eyes first thing in the morning:
Dehydration is a key culprit for morning dry eye. While you sleep, you lose water through breathing and sweat. If you don’t drink enough fluids during the day, you can wake up dehydrated. Dehydration causes your tear glands to produce fewer lubricating tears.
Chronic inflammation of the eyes can disrupt tear production and cause morning dryness. Conditions like blepharitis (eyelid inflammation) and meibomian gland dysfunction prevent proper tear secretion and evaporation.
Various prescription and over-the-counter medications have eye dryness as a side effect. Common culprits include antihistamines, blood pressure medications, antidepressants, birth control pills, and decongestants.
As we get older, our tear glands produce fewer quality tears. Dry eyes become increasingly common after age 40. Hormonal changes in menopause can also increase dry eye symptoms in women.
Dry, cold winter air can evaporate natural tear film and lead to dryness. Indoor heaters, fans, and air conditioning have a similar effect. Eye irritation from air pollution or cigarette smoke may also worsen morning dryness.
Sleeping face down or with your eyes partly open can disturb the tear film layer. This causes increased evaporation and morning dryness.
Common Symptoms of Morning Dry Eyes
How can you tell if you have dry eye first thing in the morning? Here are some of the most common symptoms:
- Gritty, scratchy sensation upon waking
- Burning or stinging eyes
- Blurred vision
- Sensitivity to light
- Redness and bloodshot eyes
- Excessive eye mucus/discharge
- Eyelids sticking together
- Feeling like you have something in your eyes
- Watery eyes that overflow with tears
If you experience any of these chronic morning eye issues, you likely have some degree of dryness. Severity can range from mild annoyance to significant vision impairment.
Tips to Prevent Morning Eye Dryness
You don’t have to live with uncomfortable, dry eyes each morning. Try these effective prevention tips:
Hydrate Throughout the Day
Make a conscious effort to consume adequate fluids, especially water and herbal teas. Carry a water bottle as a reminder. Drinking one ounce of water per pound you weigh daily is a reasonable goal. Caffeine and alcohol can have a dehydrating effect, so moderate intake.
Use a Humidifier
Run a humidifier in your bedroom while sleeping. The added moisture prevents excessive tear evaporation overnight. Keep humidifier filters clean to minimize potential mold issues.
Avoid Sleeping Face Down
This position causes increased friction and irritation of the eyes. Try to sleep on your back or sides instead. Use soft, comfortable pillows that don’t put pressure on your face.
Manage Chronic Health Conditions
Follow your doctor’s treatment plan for any medical conditions that can cause dry eyes like autoimmune disorders, thyroid disease, and vitamin deficiencies. Controlling inflammation is key.
Review medications with your pharmacist or doctor to see if any drugs you take contribute to dryness. Consider lower-risk alternatives or time doses before bedtime to minimize effects.
Smoking worsens dry eye symptoms immediately and causes long-term damage. The toxins in cigarettes impair tear gland function. Quitting improves ocular health.
Cleanse Eyelids Daily
Use a hypoallergenic, oil-free eyelid cleanser to remove debris and bacteria around lashes. This prevents oil gland blockages and inflammation.
Applying warm, damp washcloths to closed eyes before bedtime helps soften oil secretions. This unblocks glands and enhances tear film. Repeat in the morning for relief.
Limit Screen Time Before Bed
Staring at digital screens’ bright light leads to tear film instability. Avoid phones, TVs, computers, tablets, and e-readers for one hour before bedtime.
Adjust Sleep Position
Train yourself not to sleep face down. Use extra pillows to prop up your head or sleep on your back instead. Some people benefit from specialty-contoured eye pillows.
Allergen-proof pillows and mattress covers prevent dust mite exposure that can irritate eyes overnight. Choose soft, high thread-count cotton sheets that feel gentle on your face.
Add Moisture Chamber Goggles
For severe cases, wearing fitted goggles designed to seal in moisture overnight provides added relief. Ocular implants that continually release lubricants are also an option long-term.
Morning Dry Eye Relief Tips
If you wake up with dry, irritated eyes, use these tips to find quick relief:
- Splash face with cool water to flush eyes – Avoid rubbing them.
- Use preservative-free artificial tears or gels to lubricate eyes. Reapply often.
- Try a warm, damp washcloth compress for several minutes.
- Massage eyelids to loosen oil glands and promote tear flow.
- Limit exposure to indoor and outdoor irritants like smoke or wind.
- Turn down the thermostat at night to prevent dry air.
- Shower and cleanse eyelids/lashes to remove mucus and debris buildup.
- Reduce stress through yoga, meditation, or deep breathing. Stress inhibits tear production.
- Limit caffeine intake which has a diuretic effect. Drink plenty of water.
- Take breaks when reading or using digital screens to blink more.
- Add a humidifier to your workspace to increase moisture.
- Avoid rubbing eyes which can worsen irritation.
Also, watch for related conditions like pink eye (conjunctivitis) which has similar symptoms. See an eye doctor promptly if problems persist despite home treatment. Prescription anti-inflammatory eye drops, ointments, or oral medications may be helpful for chronic dryness.
Are Your Eyes Dry Because of Blepharitis?
One of the most common causes of dry, irritated eyes upon waking is blepharitis. This chronic eyelid inflammation disrupts the tear glands and worsens morning dryness.
What is Blepharitis?
With blepharitis, tiny oil glands near the base of the eyelashes become clogged with bacteria, debris, and hardened oils. Eye dryness occurs because:
- Blocked glands reduce the quality of tear film.
- Inflammation damages tear ducts and glands.
- Excess debris and bacteria in the tear film cause irritation.
Signs that point to blepharitis as the culprit include:
- Red, swollen eyelids
- Greasy flakes/crust on lashes
- A sticky sensation upon waking
- Eyelids sticking together
- Burning, stinging discomfort
- Blurry vision, light sensitivity
- Excess eye mucus
To relieve blepharitis and associated dry eyes:
- Use warm compresses and eyelid massage to loosen blockages.
- Gently scrub eyelids and base of lashes with a clean damp cloth 1-2 times daily.
- Try a blepharitis eyelid hygiene kit with an antibacterial cleanser.
- Take oral antibiotics or antibiotic ointment if prescribed by your doctor.
- Use preservative-free artificial tears 4-6 times a day.
- Consider prescription anti-inflammatory eye drops to reduce swelling.
- Keep facial skin clean and avoid oil-based cosmetics.
- Don’t squeeze or scrub your eyes. Seek medical treatment.
With diligent treatment, blepharitis symptoms can be controlled. But it tends to be a chronic, lifelong condition for most people. Sticking to a regular eyelid hygiene routine is key, especially right before bedtime.
When to See a Doctor About Dry Eyes
Home remedies can provide relief in many cases of morning dry eye. But if you have any of the following, seek prompt medical evaluation:
- No improvement after 2 weeks of home treatment
- Significant vision changes like blurriness
- Recurrent eye infections or styes
- Foreign body sensation that won’t resolve
- Redness, pain, and light sensitivity
- Excessive tearing or eye discharge
- History of eye injury or surgery
- Diabetes or autoimmune disorder
- Using prescription eye medications
Let your eye doctor know all your symptoms. They can examine your eyes to determine the cause and recommend specialized prescription treatments like:
- Tapering steroid eye drops to reduce inflammation
- Prescription eye ointments with cyclosporine to increase tear production
- Antibiotic eye medications for infections
- Oral medications to manage underlying health conditions
- Punctal plugs to prevent tear drainage
For moderate to severe cases, your doctor may recommend procedures like:
- Amniotic membrane grafts
- Partial or complete eye duct closure
- Laser treatment for blepharitis
- Contact lens options to protect eyes
The sooner you seek help for persistent dryness, the lower your risk of complications like corneal abrasion, vision loss, and eye infections.
Frequently Asked Questions About Dry Eyes in the Morning
What is the best drop to use for dry eyes in the morning?
Preservative-free artificial tears and gels provide the best immediate relief. Look for lubricating types containing carboxymethylcellulose or hypromellose. Refresh Optive Advanced and Systane Ultra are excellent options.
Why do my eyes burn every morning?
That burning sensation upon waking is the hallmark of dry eye. Causes include tear film instability, inflammation, blocked glands, and environmental factors like dryness. Managing underlying conditions and hydrating eyes helps reduce burning.
How can I make my eyes less dry in the morning?
Key prevention tips include hydrating well all day, managing medical conditions, taking eye-drying medications wisely, avoiding sleeping face down, using a bedroom humidifier, and practicing good eyelid hygiene before bed.
Should I wash my eyes with water in the morning?
Rinsing your closed eyes with cool water can flush out mucus and provide some relief first thing. Don’t rub them dry afterward. Follow up immediately with lubricating drops or a warm compress to ease dryness.
Is Vaseline good for dry eyes in the morning?
Thick ointments like Vaseline trap moisture in eyes but can be uncomfortable for some. Many doctors recommend preservative-free gels like Systane Nighttime PM Therapy which works similarly. Consult your eye doctor.
What does it mean if my eyes are dry every morning?
Chronic morning eye dryness is a symptom of an underlying problem like blepharitis, Sjogren’s syndrome, meibomian gland dysfunction, allergies, medications, or environmental factors. See an optometrist to determine the cause.
Can dry eyes cause eye pain?
Yes, moderate to severe dry eye can directly cause a painful, scratchy, gritty feeling, especially first thing in the morning. Eye pain, discomfort, or tenderness to touch signals it’s time to call your ophthalmologist.
Are eye masks good for dry eyes while sleeping?
Some people find contoured sleep masks with moisture-retaining gels soothe dryness overnight. Look for adjustable masks made of soft fabric that doesn’t put pressure on the eyes. Avoid plastics which can irritate.
Can sleeping too much cause dry eyes in the morning?
It’s not the amount of sleep that causes dryness but rather the sleep environment and your position. Sleeping too long in a dry room, with a ceiling fan blowing on your face, or smushed into a pillow can increase eye dryness upon waking.
Does dry eye ever go away permanently?
For mild temporary cases caused by things like seasonal allergies, dryness may resolve when the trigger goes away. However chronic dry eye linked to underlying inflammatory conditions like blepharitis or autoimmune disease tends to recur permanently, needing ongoing management.
In summary, waking up with dry, irritated eyes is no fun but typically manageable with some adjustments. Start by identifying any medical conditions, medications, or environmental factors that may be contributing to chronic morning eye dryness. Making lifestyle changes like daily eyelid scrubs, using a bedroom humidifier, hydrating better, and avoiding sleeping face down can all help prevent waking up with dry eyes.
See an optometrist promptly if symptoms like blurry vision, eye pain, discharge, or redness occur. They can diagnose any underlying problems and prescribe specialized prescription treatments for long-term relief. With the right solutions, dry uncomfortable eyes don’t have to be the first thing you experience every morning.
This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice. Please consult your primary care physician or eye doctor if you have chronic dry eyes that do not improve with self-treatment.
Faizan Ahmad is a passionate medical writer and health enthusiast. He joined Quick Medico in 2023 as a place to provide reliable information and resources about health, diseases, and wellness topics.
Now as the editor-in-chief of Quick Medico, Faizan leads a team of experienced medical writers and health professionals. His goal is to make complex health topics easy to understand and provide readers with practical information to improve their health and well-being.
Outside of work, Faizan enjoys being in nature, reading non-fiction books, and spending time with friends and family. He brings his natural curiosity and passion for lifelong learning to every article he writes or edits for Quick Medico. Faizan lives in Islamabad, Pakistan, and looks forward to continuing to grow Quick Medico into a leading health information site that empowers readers to take control of their health.