Consequences of Untreated Dry Eyes

Dr. Russel Lazarus, July 14, 2021

Up to 15% of all adults suffer with dry eyes.

Increase the quality of your tears and improve the quality of your life.

What is Dry Eye?

Dry eye syndrome occurs when your eyes produce either low-quality tears or insufficient tears to keep your eyes moisturized.

The oily layer of your tears is produced by the meibomian glands inside your eyelids, which can malfunction or become clogged, causing your tears to dry out.

Tears are necessary for good eye health and comfort. They hydrate your eyes while also removing debris. Untreated dry eye syndrome can damage your cornea and cause vision loss in severe circumstances.

Dry eye syndrome can result from blocked glands, sensitivity to the environment (wind, air pollution), infrequent blinking, certain medications, some medical conditions, contact lenses and demodex mites, among others.

The intensity of the dryness varies from person to person. If you have a minor case of dry eye, over-the-counter eye drops may help.

If the condition persists or seems to be getting worse, see an eye doctor near you who will examine your eyes, identify the underlying issue, and begin treatment.

SEE RELATED: Dry Eyes or Eye Allergies?

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Complications of untreated dry eyes

Treating dry eye will not only provide more comfortable and clearer vision but will also prevent serious eye health consequences.

Dirt and sand particles might get into your eyes and scratch the cornea’s surface. Bacteria can invade the cornea and cause a wide range of sight-threatening eye conditions.

Some complications that can occur when chronic dry eye syndrome isn’t treated include:


Inflammation or infection of the conjunctiva — the clear layer of cells that covers the white part of your eyeball and the inner surface of your eyelids — can cause a contagious yellow discharge, as well as ocular pain and redness.


The inflammation of the cornea is known as keratitis. If left untreated, the cornea’s deeper layers are affected, and the result can be permanent vision loss from corneal scarring.

Corneal ulcer

An open sore on the cornea, the transparent, protective outer layer of your eyes, is known as a corneal ulcer.

Corneal ulcers are most commonly caused by an accident; however they can also be caused by extreme dry eye.

Fortunately, corneal ulcers can be treated with antibiotic eye drops. These ulcers can spread and damage the eyeball, resulting in partial or total blindness if not treated.

Inability to wear contact lenses

Contact lenses can become too dry if your eyes don’t produce enough good-quality tears, causing a gritty sensation, discomfort, and redness.

Your contacts may adhere to your eyeball if there isn’t enough moisture, making it difficult to remove them. You may be unable to wear standard contact lenses if you suffer from chronic dry eye syndrome.

There are, however, some specialty contact lenses that can assist in lubricating your eyes.

Difficulty reading or driving

Blurred vision can indicate that you need a stronger prescription for your glasses or contacts, but it can also be a symptom of chronic dry eye syndrome.

If left untreated, blurriness may worsen over time, or double vision may develop.

If this is the case, you may have difficulty driving and reading. It might be difficult, if not impossible, to work when your vision is blurry.


It may be tough to keep your eyes open depending on the severity of your dry eye. This can occur if dry eye syndrome causes acute light sensitivity, photophobia, or the sense that something is in your eye.

Even if artificial tears supply enough moisture to partially open your eyes, you may still need to squint, especially if you’re in front of a computer screen or in direct sunlight.


More than 6,000 women were studied in a 2015 study published in the journal Cornea to see if there was a link between dry eye syndrome and depressive feelings.

Researchers discovered that women with dry eyes were more likely to experience negative moods, anxiety, and psychological stress.

While the link isn’t entirely understood, researchers have discovered that some antidepressant drugs have a drying impact on the eyes, and that dry eye syndrome can limit a person’s involvement in activities, leading to anxiety, withdrawnness, and melancholy.


There may be a link between headaches and dry eye, though additional research is needed.

According to a population-based case study of more than 72,000 patients published in JAMA Ophthalmology (2019), migraine sufferers are more likely to have dry eyes than the general population.

It’s unclear why this is the case. According to the researchers, being female and being older “play a crucial role in defining the strength of this association.”

If left untreated, chronic dry eye can lead to complications. The first step in determining the cause of dry eye symptoms and how to treat them is to visit an eye doctor.

LEARN MORE:  Guide to Eye Conditions

Schedule an appointment with an eye doctor near you, to help find the right treatment options, increase the quality of your tears and improve the quality of your life.