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Tips for Managing Dry Eyes in the Morning

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Taking the first step

If you are constantly waking up with dry eyes in the morning, you may be experiencing a common symptom of dry eye disease (DED). DED is a chronic condition that affects millions worldwide. Symptoms of DED can be debilitating and cause issues far beyond just your eyes. More importantly, DED affects your mental, social and physical wellbeing.

If you wake up with dry eyes in the morning, you may not be getting adequate high-quality sleep needed for rest and repair. We all know how it feels to be well-rested versus sleep-deprived. Poor quality of sleep is linked with many physical and psychological medical conditions, including obesity, mood disorders, high blood pressure and reduced performance at work.¹

We’re here to tell you that even though DED affects most people for life, there are ways to manage DED symptoms so that you wake up and feel excited about the day ahead!

A quick overview of dry eye disease

Dry eye disease (DED) is an eye condition also known as keratoconjunctivitis sicca, dry eye syndrome and ocular surface disease, and it is much more common than you may think! Dry eyes affect 30 million people in the United States and 300 million people worldwide.²

So what exactly is DED? You can think about it as a malfunction in your tear film. Your tear film coats your cornea, or the front part of your eye. Your tear film plays a crucial role in protecting the eyes, making them feel comfortable, and helping you see clearly. If your tear film isn’t working well (due to various reasons), it sets off a cascade of inflammation, leading to the classic dry eye symptoms.³

We explore DED in much greater detail in What is Dry Eye Disease and in our Dry Eye 101 Course. If you have questions or want to share your experience with dry eyes, visit our community page!

Symptoms of dry eyes

Some of the most common symptoms of dry eyes in the morning match the classic symptoms of DED. These symptoms include:³

  • Redness
  • Gritty feeling
  • Burning sensation
  • Itchy eyes
  • Light sensitivity
  • Blurred vision

What causes dry eyes in the morning

Like with DED, there are many factors that can contribute to symptoms of morning dry eyes and everyone’s situation is unique. While DED sufferers may experience symptoms all day long, some may have more intense symptoms in the morning compared to the rest of the day, or only have symptoms in the morning. Below are some of the most common causes of dry eyes in the morning.

Nocturnal lagophthalmos

Don’t worry; we won’t ask you to pronounce this condition! Nocturnal lagophthalmos simply means that your eyelids remain partially open while you are sleeping. As you can imagine, this causes some instability to your tear film and may cause your eyes to dry out overnight. Nocturnal lagophthalmos may disrupt your sleep, even if it doesn’t fully wake you up.⁴

Environmental Factors

Your sleeping environment can cause dry eyes in the morning. When was the last time you dusted under your bed? Allergens, such as dust mites, dirt and even dead skin cells, can all irritate the eyes while you sleep and cause them to become dry. Keeping your sleeping area tidy and wiped clean is a simple solution to remove bedroom allergens.

Other environmental factors for DED include:⁶

  • Low humidity in the room
  • Sleeping in front of a fan or air conditioner, or under an air vent
  • Using digital screens before bed
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Aerosol sprays and synthetic fragrances

Medications and medical conditions

The tricky part about DED is that there are many factors that contribute to you experiencing symptoms. Several medical conditions such as Sjörgens syndrome, meibomian gland dysfunction, rheumatoid arthritis, blepharitis, and even hormonal changes such as pregnancy and menopause can cause DED. Even seemingly harmless over-the-counter (OTC) medications such as antihistamines and decongestants can lead to dry eyes, especially with prolonged use. Certain prescription medications such as antidepressants and contact lenses can also dry out the eyes.⁵ We do not suggest stopping any of these medications, but it’s best to talk to your eye care provider to discuss potential side effects and treatments available.

How do you treat dry eyes in the morning

The good news about treating dry eyes in the morning is that simple lifestyle modifications can be tried first before resorting to treatment options such as OTC or prescription medications or medical procedures. Unfortunately, with DED, you may require more intense medical intervention, but with the right treatment plan and a good self-care and eye care routine, you can manage DED and still live a great life.

The basics of dry eye treatment include eyelid hygienetear replacement, reducing inflammation and lifestyle and environmental modifications.

Eyelid hygiene

The eyes and eyelids work together to maintain your tear film and protect your eyes. Eyelid hygiene includes daily care of your eyelids with warm compresses and scrubbing your eyelids with eyelid wipes or sprays. You can purchase pre-made warm compresses or make your own with a warm towel and water. For eyelid scrubbing, you can use gentle baby shampoo and a soft towel, or buy pre-moistened eyelid cleansing wipes.

Tear replacement

While eyelid hygiene stabilizes tear film, tear replacement replenishes tear film. Tear replacement can be accomplished with artificial tears or eye drops, gels or ointments available in OTC and as prescriptions. It’s important to keep in mind that the best tear replacement treatment is the one that you adhere to consistently and that works for you. It often takes several weeks of consistent artificial tear use before seeing noticeable results. It may be best to start with a tear gel or ointment for dry eyes in the morning and use right before bedtime to provide overnight lubrication.⁷

Reducing inflammation

Inflammation seems to be a hot topic these days, and for a good reason. When your body is inflamed, it is hard to maintain overall health. Inflammation in your tear glands, cornea, or conjunctiva (outermost layers of your eyes) can lead to your body not making enough tears, or the right types of tears.⁶ Reducing eyelid inflammation with cold compresssupplements like omega-3 fatty acids and good nutrition can significantly impact dry eye symptoms.

Lifestyle and environmental modifications

Lifestyle and environmental modifications can make a huge difference in reducing DED and morning dry eye symptoms.

  • Using a humidifier (cool mist is preferred over warm)
  • Moving your bed away from direct air and heat sources
  • Avoiding digital screens like computers or smartphones before bed
  • Stopping or avoiding cigarette smoke before bed and in the home

In severe cases, talk to your eye doctor (ophthalmologist or optometrist) about a treatment plan that includes eyelid hygiene, ocular lubrication, prescription eye drops, medications or procedures along with lifestyle modifications to help alleviate symptoms.

Putting it all together

Waking up with dry eyes in the morning can be frustrating. The morning should be a time of hope and excitement about the day ahead. If you are waking up with dry, painful eyes it may be hard to get in a positive mood for the day. At CorneaCare, we care about your whole health, which we believe begins with good eye health. After all, we use our eyes from the moment we wake up until we go to sleep at night. It’s important you focus on both preventing and treating dry eyes with good lifestyle habits that impact not just your eyes, but your overall health and wellbeing.

What’s next

Our Dry Eye 101 course is a great way to get started on establishing a solid eye treatment plan. Find it here! If you’ve already taken it, way to go! We’d love to hear from you in our Dry Eye Community.

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