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Can Coffee Cause Dry Eyes?

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Woman rubbing her left eye.

Many people rely on coffee to get through their day, whether it’s to boost their energy levels or simply enjoy the taste. But have you ever noticed that after drinking your morning cup of coffee, your eyes feel dry and irritated? You’re not alone—this is a common occurrence among coffee drinkers.

Caffeine, a key component of coffee, is a diuretic, meaning it increases urine production and can lead to dehydration. This can reduce the moisture in your eyes, causing a feeling of dryness and irritation. Caffeine can also cause blood vessels to constrict, potentially decreasing blood flow to the eyes and worsening dryness. So, while coffee has its perks, it can also cause some eye discomfort for certain individuals.

The Link Between Caffeine & Dry Eyes

Dry eyes occur when your tear glands don’t produce enough tears to keep your eyes lubricated. This can be caused by a variety of factors, such as aging, certain medications, medical conditions like diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis, and environmental factors like dry air or wind.

However, one contributing factor that is often overlooked is caffeine consumption. Caffeine is a stimulant found in coffee, tea, and many energy drinks. In addition to the effects mentioned above, such as increased alertness and potential disruption of sleep patterns, caffeine can also interfere with the production of tears.

It does this by affecting the glands responsible for producing them, which can lead to dry eyes and discomfort, especially in those who consume high amounts of caffeine regularly. This is because caffeine can also act as a vasoconstrictor, meaning it narrows blood vessels and reduces blood flow to certain areas of the body, including the tear glands.

How Can You Reduce Dry Eyes?

If you’re experiencing dry eyes after drinking coffee, there are a few steps you can take to reduce this discomfort:

  • Limit your caffeine intake: Since caffeine is a major contributor to dry eyes, reducing or eliminating your consumption of coffee (and other caffeinated beverages) may help alleviate symptoms.
  • Stay hydrated: As mentioned before, caffeine can lead to dehydration. Counteract this by drinking plenty of water throughout the day to keep your eyes and body hydrated.
  • Take frequent breaks: If you spend a lot of time in front of screens (e.g. computer, phone), make sure to take regular breaks to give your eyes a rest and prevent them from getting dry and uncomfortable.
  • Consider reducing environmental triggers: Dry air or wind can aggravate dry eyes, so consider using a humidifier in your home or office or wearing sunglasses on windy days to protect your eyes.
  • Practice good eye hygiene: Make sure to wash your hands before touching your eyes and avoid rubbing them if they feel dry. This can introduce bacteria and irritate the eyes further.
  • Consult with an optometrist: If you continue to experience chronic dry eye symptoms, it’s best to consult with an optometrist for a professional opinion and potential treatment options.

Professional Treatment for Dry Eyes

In addition to the above self-care measures, there are also professional treatments available for chronic dry eye sufferers. These may include:

  • Artificial tears: These eye drops supply additional moisture to the surface of your eyes, helping to alleviate symptoms by keeping your eyes hydrated. They can be used multiple times a day, providing immediate relief from dryness, burning, and discomfort.
  • Prescription drops & topical steroids: With their potent anti-inflammatory properties, medications such as Restasis, Xiidra, and low dose steroids can significantly reduce even severe dry eye symptoms. Steroids are usually prescribed for short-term use to manage flare-ups and should be used under the supervision of a healthcare professional to avoid potential side effects.
  • Biological Tear Substitutes: Derived from biological materials such as autologous serum or platelet-rich plasma, these eye drops closely mimic the composition of natural tears. They provide essential nutrients and growth factors that promote healing, reduce inflammation, and enhance lubrication of the eye. Ideal for severe dry eye conditions, they offer a personalized treatment option.
  • BlephEx: This is an innovative in-office procedure performed by our eye doctor to remove bacteria, biofilm, and toxins from your eyelids. By thoroughly cleaning the eyelid margins, BlephEx promotes better eye health and can dramatically improve symptoms of dry eye disease and blepharitis.
  • Zocular Eyelid System Treatment: ZEST is a professional in-office procedure designed to cleanse the eyelids and improve symptoms of dry eye and blepharitis. Utilizing a unique formulation of okra-based ingredients, the treatment effectively removes debris, biofilm, and bacteria from the eyelid margins, enhancing overall eyelid hygiene and promoting better ocular surface health.
  • Heat masks: By applying mild pressure and consistent warmth, these masks help to soften and release clogged oils in the meibomian glands located in your eyelids. This reduces inflammation, enhances tear film stability, and provides significant relief from dry eye symptoms. They are typically used for about 10-15 minutes daily.
  • Eyelid-cleansing wipes: These convenient wipes are used to keep your eyelids clean, reducing irritation and enhancing the effectiveness of other therapies. By removing debris and bacteria from the eyelid margins, these wipes help to maintain good eyelid hygiene, which is crucial for managing chronic dry eye and preventing infections.
  • Lumecca IPL: An intense pulsed light (IPL) treatment that reduces inflammation on the eyelids by targeting abnormal blood vessels and reducing demodex overpopulation. Lumecca IPL stabilizes the tear film, lightens pigment spots, and improves meibomian gland function. IPL can improve dry eyes, ocular rosacea, blepharitis, and also has aesthetic benefits.
  • Radio Frequency (RF): Meibomian glands are gently heated by controlled radio waves, promoting the release of natural oils and improving the quality of the tear film. This non-invasive procedure helps to reduce inflammation, enhance tear stability, and provide long-lasting relief from dry eye symptoms.
  • LipiFlow: A specialized treatment that combines gentle heat and pressure to unclog blocked meibomian glands in the eyelids. The device uses a precisely controlled heat to warm the inner eyelids and simultaneous gentle pulsation to massage and clear the glands, improving the flow of natural oils into the tear film and providing relief from dry eye symptoms.
  • Punctal Plugs: Small, biocompatible devices inserted into the tear ducts to block drainage, thereby increasing and conserving the eye’s natural tears to alleviate dry eye symptoms.

Southwood Eyecare provides a convenient take-home dry eye kit for daily use to promote eyelid hygiene and help manage dry eye symptoms.

Discover Effective Solutions for Dry Eye at Southwood Eyecare

Individual responses to coffee can vary greatly, so the impact of caffeine on dry eye symptoms might differ from person to person. It’s important to pay attention to your own symptoms and adjust your coffee intake as needed. Talking with an eye care professional can offer personalized advice and effective strategies for managing dry eye disease, especially when factoring in diet and lifestyle.At Southwood Eyecare, our eye doctors can help determine the best course of action for improving your dry eye symptoms and overall eye health. Contact us today to schedule an appointment and learn more about managing dry eye disease.

Written by Dr. Shmyla Chaudhery

Dr. Shmyla Chaudhery was born and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba. She obtained a Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Manitoba and later completed the Doctor of Optometry program at Illinois College of Optometry graduating with Magna Cum Laude honours. Dr. Chaudhery is also a member of the Beta Sigma Kappa International Optometric Honor Society and the Tomb and Key Honor Fraternity. She has experience with pediatric eye exams, ocular disease, specialty contact lenses, and vision therapy. During her spare time, she enjoys playing badminton and spending time with her husband and kids.
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