Why Do My Eyes Feel Gritty?

Dr. Russel Lazarus, December 13, 2020

Gritty eyes can make your eyes feel scratchy, rough and irritated— almost as if a piece of sand is stuck in your eye.

Gritty eyes can be caused by a number of eye conditions, including dry eye syndrome, blepharitis, sjogren’s syndrome, or even sunburned eyes.

If you are experiencing a gritty sensation in your eyes, schedule an eye exam to determine the cause of your symptoms and receive an appropriate treatment plan.

SEE RELATED: Why Do My Eyes Feel Sore?

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Dry eye syndrome (DES)

Dry eye syndrome is the most common cause of gritty eyes. 

A diminished quantity or quality of tears can cause your eyes to become dry, itchy, irritated and sore.

Healthy tears consist of three elements: oil, mucus, and water. If any of these elements are compromised, it can affect the quality of your tear film and cause your tears to evaporate too quickly. If either of these problems occur, dry eye symptoms will result.

Dry eye syndrome is a chronic condition that can be hereditary or caused by hormonal changes, lifestyle habits, certain medications, LASIK surgery, or the natural aging process.

If DES is causing the gritty sensation you are experiencing, your eye doctor may recommend an artificial tears eye drop, gel, or ointment to increase the moisture in your eyes and alleviate your symptoms.

Medicated eye drops that increase natural tear production may also be prescribed for moderate to severe dry eye symptoms. For acute cases, a steroid eye drop may be prescribed in combination with a medicated eye drop to provide short-term relief of severe dry eyes.

For chronic or severe dry eyes, your eye doctor may recommend a specialized in-office dry eye treatment. There is a wide range of treatment procedures that have been proven effective in treating the underlying cause of dry, gritty eyes.


Blepharitis is one of the most common eye conditions marked by an inflammation of the eyelids.

Blepharitis generally develops when the oil glands at the base of the eyelashes become blocked. It is commonly caused by meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD), but can also develop from a bacterial infection or skin condition such as dandruff of the scalp or rosacea.

Grittiness is a common symptom of blepharitis, along with swollen eyelids, and red, irritated, itchy eyes. 

An appropriate treatment plan will be determined based on the type of infection that has caused the blepharitis.

To effectively treat blepharitis, it is important to keep your eyelids clean. Wash your eyelids and eyelashes every night with a mild soap recommended by your eye doctor to soften any buildup of debris and wash away any crusty discharge.

In-office eyelid hygiene procedures, such as eyelid margin cleaning, intense pulsed light (IPL), thermal pulsation, and blephex treatments are often recommended to effectively eliminate the infection and relieve your uncomfortable symptoms.

Your eye doctor may also prescribe medicated eye drops or ointments or oral medication to help clear the infection. In some cases, a steroid eye drop may be prescribed to reduce inflammation.

When the inflammation is treated, your eyes will feel more comfortable and the gritty sensation will disappear.

Sjogren’s syndrome

Sjogren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disease that damages the tear and saliva producing glands— causing dry eyes and a dry mouth.

Along with dry eyes, comes a gritty sensation, burning in or around the eyes, light sensitivity, red eyes, and blurry vision.

To relieve your dry eye symptoms, your eye doctor may recommend an artificial tears eye drop, gel or ointment to help keep your eyes moist throughout the day. A medicated eye drop may also be prescribed to encourage natural tear production.

In some cases, medications to treat Sjorgren’s syndrome may also improve your dry eye symptoms.

Sunburned eyes (photokeratitis)

A day in the sun without the right eye protection can lead to sunburned eyes.

Sunburned eyes appear red or bloodshot, and typically cause a gritty sensation along with light sensitivity and blurred vision. 

While photokeratitis generally does not cause any long term eye damage, it should be looked at by an eye doctor.

To alleviate your discomfort, your eye doctor may recommend using an artificial tears eye drop, gel, or ointment to lubricate your eyes and sooth the burn. For severe sunburns, an anti-inflammatory eye drop may be prescribed.

Photokeratitis generally fades after a couple of days, and the gritty sensation in your eyes should disappear as well. If you don’t notice any improvement after several days, contact your eye doctor.

If your eyes feel gritty and irritated, don’t wait for the sensation to go away on its own. There are a range of effective treatments that can offer you quick relief.

LEARN MORE:  Guide to Eye Conditions

Schedule an appointment with an eye doctor to get the treatment you need to help your eyes feel comfortable again.