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Is It Dry Eye Or Something Else? A Functional Eye Doctor's Tip To Tell

Jamie Schneider
mbg Associate Editor By Jamie Schneider
mbg Associate Editor
Jamie Schneider is the Associate Editor at mindbodygreen, covering beauty and health. She has a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in Coveteur, The Chill Times, and Wyld Skincare.
(Last Used: 2/9/21) Stressed Woman with Hands Over Her Eyes in a Studio

If you've ever dealt with eye discomfort (blurriness, itchiness, grittiness, et al.), you may self-diagnose it as a case of dry eye. It makes sense: Dry eye is even more prevalent at the moment—not only because the arid winter air sucks all the moisture out of your eyeballs, but many of us are also staring at screens more than ever before. As functional eye doctor Rudrani Banik, M.D., shares on the mindbodygreen podcast, the work-from-home setup isn't too kind for your delicate orbs; that uptick in screen time may cause digital eye strain—and dry eye, as a result. 

So when those aforementioned symptoms decide to crop up? Well, it's dry eye, you think...probably. We'd never tell you to sound the alarm every time you face some eye discomfort (for what it's worth, it probably is dry eye!), but it's nice to know for sure, no? After all, says Banik, many of the eye conditions (macular degeneration, cataracts, and the like) have overlapping symptoms—again, blurriness, itchiness, grittiness, etc. 

Here, she breaks down how to know if you're dealing with pesky dry eye—or if there could be another eye health condition in question. 

How to tell if you're dealing with dry eye. 

Here's the main difference between dry eye and some of the other more serious eye health concerns: Dry eye appears in ebbs and flows. "People may experience temporary blurriness or a scratchy sensation in the eye, like there's sand or pebbles in the eye—that's dry eye," says Banik. "But the key is that it comes and goes. It really should not be there all the time."  

On the flip side, if you wake up to uncomfortable eye pain with no relief whatsoever throughout the day, you might want to give your eye doctor a ring. 

You can also try Banik's trusty eye drop test: If you wake up with eye discomfort, plop in some eye drops. "If you start to feel a little bit better with the eyes a little lubricated, then it's probably dry eye," she says. If the pain persists? Get it checked out. Essentially: "The best way to know if it's a problem is if you have chronic symptoms," she adds. 


If it's dry eye, here's what you can do. 

If your symptoms come and go, you're likely dealing with a case of dry eye. Annoying, yes, but also easily treatable: According to Banik, you might want to start dialing down the screen time—difficult in a time of social distancing, we know, but Banik notes that dry eye is one of the most common symptoms of digital eye strain (along with leeriness, difficulty focusing, light sensitivity, and sometimes even neck and shoulder pain). She suggests limiting your devices a couple of hours before bedtime, or, at the very least, investing in a pair of blue-light-blocking glasses.

But let's say you're dealing with a case of dry eye, oh, right about now, and need more of a quick fix. Again, you can pop in some eye drops to keep your orbs lubricated, which may help with the itch—especially if you wear contacts. "Contacts do increase the risk of dry eye," says Banik. "So if you wear contacts, make sure you lubricate often." (Find even more ways to treat dry eyes here.) 

The takeaway. 

Think you may be dealing with dry eye? If your symptoms come and go, you probably are! If they persist, though, you might want to get your orbs checked out by an eye doctor. It certainly doesn't hurt to have a professional once-over, even if the verdict is, in fact, dry eye.

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