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What are Gritty Eyes and What Causes Them?Medically reviewed by Tina Patel, Contact Lens Optician at Feel Good Contacts.
Gritty Eye Symptoms
Gritty eyes are often described as the sensation of having sand in the eye and it’s usually accompanied by the following symptoms:
- Dry eyes
- Burning eyes
- Watery eyes
- Red eyes
- Itchy eyes
Here Are Some of the Causes of Gritty Eyes
Gritty eyes can be caused by a range of factors including eye conditions and medical problems.
Dry eye syndrome
Dry eye syndrome can cause burning, itching and a stinging sensation in addition to a gritty feeling in the eyes. This happens when the tears don’t provide sufficient lubrication for your eyes.
It is important to treat dry eyes so that they don’t damage the surface of the eye or lead to infections.
Corneal abrasion is when the cornea has a scratch on its surface. If you have a corneal abrasion, it might feel as though there is something stuck in the eye or you may experience a gritty feeling. Corneal abrasions can be caused by makeup brushes, fingernails or even the branches of trees.
Blepharitis is a common eye condition which causes inflammation of the eyelids. It is often accompanied by sore, gritty eyes and can cause the eyes to appear red and swollen. It can also cause crusting along the lashes.
Blepharitis can be treated with antibiotics, steroids and by using a warm compress such as our Optase Moist Heat Eye Mask.
Overexposure to UVA and UVB rays can cause sunburn on the eyes which can lead to eyes feeling gritty. To prevent this, you should always wear sunglasses with 100% UVA and UVB protection when outdoors.
Eye allergies such as allergic conjunctivitis occur when allergens such as pollen cause irritated eyes.
When this happens the eyes produce a substance called histamine which can cause you to feel a gritty sensation in the eye as well as burning, itching, swelling, redness and tearing.
Vitamin A deficiency
A lack of vitamin A in your diet can cause dry and gritty eyes and affect your eye health in general. This is because we need vitamin A to produce tears that lubricate our eyes. You can combat vitamin A deficiency by eating foods such as carrots, eggs, fish, spinach and broccoli.
Pinguecula and pterygium
Pinguecula or pterygium grow on the conjunctiva of the eye. Changes in the conjunctiva tissue causes Pinguecula. A pterygium is a growth of the conjunctiva or mucous membrane over the cornea can use. Both can cause a burning and gritty sensation in the eye as well as itchiness and redness.
Eye drops and ointments can be used to treat these conditions and in severe cases surgery may be required.
When your thyroid doesn’t function properly, you may experience gritty or scratchy eyes. More common symptoms of thyroid disease are red eyes, watery eyes, double vision, bulging eyes and trouble closing the eyes.
Most of these symptoms can be treated using eye drops or ointments; however, surgery may be required to treat bulging eyes.
Other medical conditions that can trigger dry and gritty eyes include diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and scleroderma.
The following medications can cause dry eyes and a gritty sensation:
- Blood pressure drugs
- Birth control pills
- Drugs for Parkinson’s disease
- Heartburn medications
- Hormone replacement therapy
Laser eye surgery
Laser eye surgery can cause dry and gritty eyes; this is usually temporary but in some cases may never go away and eye drops may be required forever.
Smoky and windy environments can cause rapid tear evaporation, as can dry climates, which can cause grittiness in the eyes.
Sjögren syndrome is an autoimmune disease which affects your immune system and parts of the body that produce fluid, such as tears and saliva. This condition can therefore lead to a dry mouth and dry eyes which can cause a gritty feeling.
Eye drops can be used as a remedy to treat Sjögren syndrome, as can surgery and certain medications.
Aging can also cause dry or gritty eyes. These symptoms are often more common in those over the age of 50.
While contact lenses are a great alternative to glasses, they can sometimes cause dry eyes if not cared for properly. Make sure you listen to your optician’s advice if you wish to avoid gritty eyes from contact lenses.
How Can Your Treat Gritty Eyes?
To treat gritty eyes, you must identify the underlying cause first. Once you have found out what’s causing symptoms of grittiness, you’ll be better equipped to treat it.
While the below details some possible treatments for gritty eyes, if your eyes feel gritty, you should consult with your GP first for medical advice. They will help you decide on what treatment is best suited to you.
Medical treatments for gritty eyes can include the following:
- Eye drops – these may be prescribed to lubricate the eyes, replenish the tear film and reduce inflammation
- Light therapy with eyelid massage – this is more often used for people with severe dry eyes to help relieve symptoms
- Special contact lenses – if you wear contact lenses, your doctor or eye care professional may recommend a hydrating lens that traps moisture and protects the ocular surface
- Punctutal occlusion – a procedure which involves closing the duct that drains tears from your eyes
- Prescription drugs from your GP for dry eye - corticosteroids or cyclosporine is used for inflammation of your cornea
Home Remedy Treatments
There are a variety of home remedies for sore gritty eyes too, these include:
- Drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated
- Over-the-counter eye drops
- Warm compresses such as the Optase Moist Heat Eye Mask which can help clear blocked oil glands and relieve symptoms of dry, gritty eyes
- Eyelid massages can help to reduce grittiness
- Omega-3 supplements – these can be taken in the form of a pill or tablet to relieve symptoms of dry eye
- Humidifier – this can add moisture to the air and prevent/soothe dry eye symptoms
Preventing Gritty Eyes for the Future
The following precautions can help in preventing gritty eyes for the future:
- Avoid exposing your eyes to blowing air from hair dryers, fans and air conditioning
- Shield your eyes from dry air and harsh winds – wear wraparound sunglasses when out and about
- Give your eyes regular breaks from the screen or when reading and don’t forget to blink
- Don’t smoke - smoking or being in smoky environments can make dry eye symptoms worse
- Use artificial tears to keep your eyes lubricated
- Set up your computer screen in the right position – make sure it is below eye level. This will stop you from opening your eyes too wide and therefore slow down the evaporation of tears