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Why Are My Eyes Dry When I Wake Up?

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A mature woman is waking up on her bed with pain in her eyes due to dry eyes.

Dealing with dry eyes is a common issue among Americans. For many people, the discomfort from the dryness increases as the day goes on. For others, they actually wake up with dry, itchy eyes. 

There’s not really a one-size-fits-all answer to why someone may wake up with dry eyes. A comprehensive eye examination from an eye doctor is typically the best way to find answers. But one potential reason for dry eyes in the morning is nocturnal lagophthalmos. This is when your eyelids don’t close completely while you sleep.

To give you a more comprehensive answer, this article explores the two major subtypes of dry eye disease and some potential remedies to prevent waking up with dry eyes.

Types of Dry 

When you boil it down to a single root, dry eye disease (typically referred to simply as dry eye) is when your eyes aren’t lubricated and protected by the tear film. This film consists of three layers, fatty oils, aqueous fluid, and mucus. When these three ingredients are unbalanced for any reason, the potential for dry eye exists.

The two most common subtypes of dry eye are caused when the water or oil of the tear film mixture is abnormal.

Inadequate Tear Production (Aqueous Deficiency)

When your tear film lacks enough water in the mixture, it doesn’t matter how well the tears hold up. Inadequate tear production leads to uncomfortable symptoms like red, itchy eyes and a feeling like there’s something in your eyes.

Causes of aqueous deficiency include:

  • Aging
  • Corneal nerve desensitivity, which can happen with prolonged contact use
  • Medical conditions like some autoimmune disorders, Sjorgen’s syndrome, vitamin A deficiency, or allergic eye disease
  • Medication like allergy medicine, high blood pressure medication, or hormone therapy

None of these guarantee that someone will get dry eyes, but the risk of developing the condition increases.

Premature Tear Evaporation (Evaporative)

Even with your body producing enough tears, if they lack enough oil, it’s likely that the tears will evaporate too quickly. Like inadequate tear production, this can lead to dry eyes. A common reason for evaporative dry eye, especially for someone who doesn’t normally experience it, is environmental things like wind, dry air, or smoke. 

But there are a few other things that can cause this type of dry eye, some of which are shared with aqueous deficiency dry eye:

  • Meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD): This gland is responsible for producing the oil portion of the tear film
  • Preservatives in eye drops
  • Eye allergies
  • Vitamin A deficiency
  • Eyelid problems
  • Not blinking as much as you should
Close-up eyes of a little boy sleeping with his eyes half open causes dry eyes when you wake up.

Why Are Your Eyes Dry When You Wake Up?

With those two types of dry eye in mind, now the question is, why are your eyes dry when you wake up? It could be for any number of reasons, such as dry air in your bedroom, allergens on your pillow, or MGD.

Nocturnal Lagophthalmos

Another potential cause, especially when the symptoms are affecting you first thing when you wake up, is nocturnal lagophthalmos. This condition has two primary causes, a damaged facial nerve or damaged eyelids.

Regardless of the reason for it, both causes result in your eyelids not closing properly. This leaves your eye susceptible to damage, or in the context of this article, dry eyes.

Preventing Dry Eyes in the Morning

There are surgical treatment options for severe cases of nocturnal lagophthalmos that you could discuss with your eye doctor. But symptom management is enough in many cases. Here are a few remedies you can try implementing to relieve those dry eyes in the morning:

  • Place a humidifier in your room.
  • Shower or wash your face before bed to ensure no allergens aggravate your dry eyes.
  • Ensure you’re staying hydrated. Try drinking a glass of water immediately after getting out of bed.
  • Keep windows closed if possible to prevent allergens from getting in.
  • Use a warm compress or warming mask on your eyes at night and in the morning.
  • Use a preservative-free eye drop before bed and when you wake up.

If home remedies aren’t relieving your symptoms, discuss dry eye therapy with your eye doctor. This may include things like prescription eye drops, punctal plugs, or meibomian gland expression.

Talk to Your Eye Doctor About Waking Up With Dry Eyes

Just because dry eye disease is prevalent doesn’t mean that you should suffer from it when you open your eyes. If you’re dealing with these uncomfortable symptoms, give us a call at Total Vision. 

Our team is available to answer your questions. You can also request an appointment with one of our optometrists, who can examine your eyes to ensure no underlying issues are causing your dry eyes.

Written by Total Vision

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