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Can Dry Eyes Cause Floaters?

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A woman holding her hands up to her eyes because she is experiencing the irritation of dry eyes.

Whether they’re from seasonal allergies or they’re a chronic condition, dry eyes can be miserable. Dry eye disease is a common condition and some optometrists offer services dedicated to dry eye therapy.

Common symptoms of dry eye include red, irritated, and watery eyes. One less common symptom that some people get is floaters. While it’s easy to assume dry eyes were the cause of the floaters, there is no evidence linking floaters to dry eye.

Let’s look at what dry eyes and floaters are and a common link they have.

What Is Dry Eye?

Several things can lead to dry eyes, including dry air, smoke, allergies, medication, age, or meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD). Ultimately the 2 most common subtypes of dry eye are either inadequate tear production or the premature evaporation of your tears.

Suppose you’ve ever dealt with the uncomfortable symptoms of dry eye. In that case, you know how it can disrupt your daily life. Visit your eye doctor if you experience dry eye symptoms.

What Are Floaters?

One thing that could add to the visual disruption that may accompany dry eyes is the addition of floaters. These black spots and squiggles don’t normally cause a lot of problems but they are the natural aging process of the eye as the vitreous (or gel in our eye) breaks down. But if you’re already having trouble seeing clearly they may interfere more.

The Link Between Dry Eye & Floaters

Other than the fact that they sometimes happen simultaneously, the only thing that appears to connect dry eye and floaters is a risk factor: age. As we get older, dry eye and floaters become more common, and we’re more likely to develop them.

A close up of a person putting eye drops in their eyes to relieve the uncomfortable symptoms of dry eye

Treating Dry Eye

Narrowing down the cause of your dry eyes is typically the first step to treating it. In many cases, an over-the-counter lubricating eye drop can be enough. But stronger prescription eye drops or other procedures may be needed with more severe dry eye.

Dry eye treatments can include:

  • Lubricating eye drops: These are often the first choice for symptom relief and are sometimes used in conjunction with other therapies. Ideally, you want a preservative-free eye drop to avoid causing additional discomfort.
  • Prescription medication: Oral and topical medications are available for dry eye treatment. Depending on your situation, your eye doctor may prescribe something that stimulates your body’s tear production, reduces inflammation, or an antibiotic if there’s an infection.
  • Intense pulsed light (IPL): If you’re dealing with premature tear evaporation, you may benefit from meibomian gland stimulation and reducing ocular inflammation. IPL therapy can provide effective relief and treatment for dry eye.
  • Meibomian gland expression: Using a warm compress, your eye doctor loosens the oils in the glands and expresses it manually. This can help stimulate the gland to function properly on its own.  There are also in office therapies that warm and massage the meibomian glands.

Complications from Dry Eye

Discomfort is often the most common symptom and complication from dry eye. But it’s not the only negative impact. Other complications of untreated dry eye include:

  • Eye infections: Other than lubrication, our tears’ job is to help protect the eye from infection. So, if you’re not producing enough tears or they’re evaporating too quickly, your eye may be more prone to infection from germs or other contaminants.
  • Damage to the eye’s surface: When your tears lubricate your eye properly, everything slides smoothly under your eyelids. But dry eye can damage the eye’s surface when you blink or move your eye without adequate lubrication and can cause blurred vision.

Treating Floaters

Normal floaters may not require treatment unless they cause problems in your daily life. If this is the case, an eye doctor may recommend a vitrectomy. During this procedure, the doctor removes the vitreous fluid causing the floaters from your eye and replaces it so you can see clearly.

If you notice new floaters, a sudden increase in floaters, or flashes of light, you should see your eye doctor for an examination, whether they’re bothering your vision or not. Floaters could be a sign of retinal detachment, which is potentially vision-threatening if left untreated.

Talk to Your Eye Doctor About Your Dry Eyes

If you’re dealing with dry eye, it’s worth making an appointment to have a specialized dry eye doctor examine your eyes. Once they rule out potential diseases or conditions causing the symptoms, they can recommend a treatment. Schedule an appointment at Heartland Eye Consultants to have your dry eye or floaters assessed by a specialized eye doctor. Our professional team is happy to answer your questions and get you in to see one of our optometrists as soon as possible.

Written by Dr. Holly Ternus

Dr. Holly Ternus is originally from Torrington, Wyoming, and graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a degree in biological sciences. She graduated with Honors from The New England College of Optometry and completed internships with Honors at South Boston Community Health Center with an emphasis in glaucoma and narrow-angle glaucoma, Togus Veterans Affairs Medical Center with an emphasis in ocular disease, Lifetime Eyecare in Houston fitting specialty contact lenses, and Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.

Dr. Ternus practiced with ophthalmology in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, specializing in ocular disease, dry eye disease, and emergency care. She then transitioned into primary care, fitting specialty contacts for keratoconus, post-RK, corneal ectasia, and irregular corneas.

Dr. Ternus is an active member of the Nebraska Optometric Association, American Optometry Association, and American Academy of Optometry. She received her fellowship with the American Academy of Optometry in 2018 and is a graduate of the Nebraska Optometric Association’s Leadership Institute. She also received her fellowship in the Scleral Lens Education Society and is the first in Nebraska to have completed this honor.

Outside of work, Dr. Ternus enjoys spending time with her husband and 2 children, snowboarding, skiing, water sports, watching Husker football, and everything that involves being outdoors.

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