Gritty Eyes

One of the most common symptoms of dry eye sufferers is gritty or sandy sensation in the eye. 

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What is Gritty Eye?

"Gritty eyes" is a term used to describe conditions where your eyes feel like they're scratched or irritated, despite there being nothing physically present to cause this discomfort. But, what exactly is gritty eye, and what leads to this unsettling feeling?

Gritty eye, or foreign body sensation, is an irritating condition often associated with your eyes feeling as though they're irritated or scratched. It's akin to the sensation of having something stuck in your eyes, even when there's nothing there. This condition can cause mild to severe eye discomfort and may also lead to other symptoms, including irritation, pain, and watery eyes.

Causes of Gritty Eyes

Causes of Gritty Eyes

Gritty eyes can result from several different conditions, including:

Dry Eyes

Dry eyes is a condition which occurs if a person does not produce enough tears, or if they are producing poor quality tears.

Its symptoms include a burning or stinging sensation in the eyes, blurry vision, redness or irritation of the eyes, watery eyes, and pain while wearing contact lenses. Learn more about dry eye syndrome.

Blepharitis

Blepharitis is a condition which is characterized by inflammation of the eyelid.

Blepharitis symptoms include itchy eyes, a burning or stinging sensation in the eyes, light sensitivity, red or swollen eyes or eyelids, blurry vision, and swelling of the cornea. Learn more about blepharitis.

Sjogren’s Syndrome

Sjogren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells. It can lead to damage to the glands responsible for keeping the eyes and mouth moist, causing dry eye and the feeling of gritty eye.

Symptoms of Sjogren’s syndrome include dry eyes, a stinging or burning sensation in the eyes, light sensitivity, blurry vision, discomfort while wearing contact lenses, and blepharitis.
Learn more about Sjogren’s syndrome.

Stye

A stye is a small red bump which develops at the base of an eyelash or underneath the eyelid. Styes are typically caused by bacterial infections, and they can lead to the following symptoms:

A painful, sometimes pus-filled lump, watery eyes, or swollen eyelids. Learn more about styes.

Conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye, happens when the conjunctiva (clear tissue which covers the white of the eye) of the eye gets irritated. Conjunctivitis can be bacterial, viral, or allergic.

Symptoms of conjunctivitis include itchiness, burning, or pain in the eyes, as well as redness, watery eyes, light sensitivity, blurry eyelids, puffy eyelids, or mucus, pus, or yellow discharge coming from the eyes. Learn more about conjunctivitis (pink eye).

Photokeratitis

Photokeratitis is a condition which can develop after the eyes are exposed to ultraviolet (UV) rays, such as when looking directly at the sun or a solar eclipse, glare reflecting off snow or water, and devices like welding torches.

This condition can cause eye redness, pain, and swelling, watery eyes, light sensitivity, temporary vision loss, and twitching eyelids.

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Meibomian Gland Dysfunction

Meibomian gland dysfunction is when the meibomian glands (which produce tears that help keep the surface of the eyes moist) become clogged or are otherwise not producing enough oil to keep the tears from evaporating too quickly.

Symptoms of meibomian gland dysfunction include dry eyes, redness, burning or itchiness in the eyes, blurry vision, watery eyes, light sensitivity, or sticky or crusty eyes. Learn more about meibomian gland dysfunction.

Other Medical risk factors:

  • Thyroid problems
  • Connective tissue disorders
  • Diabetes
  • Lupus 
  • Various medications such as antidepressants, antihistamines blood pressure medications  
  • Hormone replacement treatment 
  • Refractive eye surgeries, such as LASIK & Cataract surgery
  • Inflammation of the eyelids from other eyelid conditions

Environmental risk factors

  • Use of air conditioning/ fans
  • Low humidity
  • Windy conditions
  • Dry climates 

There are also risk factors which may be able to be adjusted, including:

  • Extended digital screen usage 
  • Wearing contact lenses - people who wear contact lenses are 4 times more likely to develop dry eyes than people who do not use contact lenses 
  • Smoking/ exposure to secondhand smoke 
Causes of Gritty Eyes

Treatment for Gritty Eyes

Because the feeling of gritty eyes is caused by a variety of different eye issues, the treatment will vary depending on which cause is present. Providing the correct treatment is vital, as treating for the wrong cause can lead to more issues.

For this reason, if you are experiencing gritty eye, it is important to see our eye doctor who can diagnose the cause of your gritty eye and advise you. Treatments may include  

  • Omega 3 nutritional supplement to increase tear production
  • Proper eyelid hygiene
  • Warm compresses or advanced medical technology used to remove obstruction of the oil glands
  • Variety of eye drops
  • Tiny silicone plugs, called punctal plugs used to close the tear ducts
  • Special contact lenses
  • Prescription steroids to decrease inflammation
  • Prescription antibiotics for infection
  • Light therapy to open blocked meibomian glands 
  • Amniotic membranes 

Common Questions

There are a variety of eye conditions that can cause your eyes to feel gritty. Such as, dry eyes, blepharitis, allergies, Sjögren’s syndrome, various medications, infections, foreign body stuck in your eye etc. If your eyes feel gritty contact your eye care provider to get the proper diagnosis and treatment.
Yes, especially winter weather. In the winter due to cold weather outdoors and heated air indoors we have less moisture and low humidity, which may result in our eyes feeling dry. Also if it’s windy and cold this can cause excessive tearing as well. Snowfall can also cause your eyes to be sensitive to light/painful because snowfall creates many reflective surfaces that increase the amount of light. If there is a lot of pollution outside or if it’s during the spring time and there is a lot of pollen in the air this can also make your eyes feel itchy and gritty.
Depends on the severity of the meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD). We have meibomian glands on our upper and lower lid margin that help to produce oil, which contributes to the outermost oil layer of our tears and prevents our tears from evaporating. MGD is when the glands don’t work properly. If these glands are blocked, they do not secrete the oils necessary to maintain a healthy tear film, and can eventually die off resulting in various symptoms such as dry eyes, burning, itching, irritation, tearing, foreign body sensation etc. If the glands have already atrophied then there is no way of getting the glands back. However, if the glands are still present but just truncated or tortuous, then there is still a chance to allow the glands to start working properly again with various MGD treatment options.
There are ways to alter your environment in order to prevent dry eyes. For instance, avoid air blowing in your eyes such as a fan, air conditioner, hair dryers, or car heaters. Also consider adding a humidifier to add moisture to dry indoor air, which is especially useful when the heaters are on in the winter. Also, when you go outside the wind and dry air can cause your eyes to tear and be dry, so to prevent this and to protect your eyes it’s important to wear sunglasses or other protective eyewear when you go outside. Furthermore, if you are working with your digital device it’s important to take breaks and follow the 20/20/20 rule, which is every 20 minutes look 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Additionally, sometimes your eye doctor may notice early signs of dry eyes before you experience symptoms, so you can prophylactically treat dry eyes by applying warm compresses over your eyes and doing lid massage, as well as using artificial tears to keep the front surface of your eyes lubricated.
Treating gritty eyes largely depends on the root cause. It's recommended to consult an eye care professional to diagnose the issue accurately. Treatments can range from nutritional supplements like Omega-3 to increase tear production, warm compresses, or advanced medical technology to clear blocked oil glands, a variety of eye drops, to more complex solutions like prescription antibiotics or steroids to reduce inflammation or tackle infections. Some clinics may even use light therapy or amniotic membranes for severe cases. Always consult with your eye care professional to get an appropriate treatment.
Gritty eyes can be linked to several vitamin deficiencies, particularly Vitamin A and the Omega-3 fatty acids. Vitamin A plays a critical role in maintaining the health of the cornea, while Omega-3 fatty acids contribute to the quality of the tear film that coats the eyes.
Yes, with proper treatment, the symptoms of gritty eyes can be managed effectively. It is, however, essential to understand that the treatment approach should be determined by an eye care professional as it heavily relies on the underlying cause.
To hydrate your eyes naturally, you could use warm compresses to stimulate oil production in your eyelids, blink more often to spread tears evenly on your eye surface, or try increasing your intake of Omega-3 fatty acids which aids tear production. It's also essential to stay hydrated and avoid factors that dry your eyes such as wind, dry climates, and extended screen time.
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Summary

For help with gritty eyes, reach out to the listed practice for a dry eye evaluation. You can call or visit them for the care you need.

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