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Gritty Eyes: Is Something in Your Eye or Do You Have Dry Eye?

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A hooded young man rubbing his eyes due to grittiness.

Have you ever felt something in your eye, even when you couldn’t see anything? That gritty feeling can be described as the sensation of having sand in your eyes. It can be uncomfortable and sometimes even painful. But what causes this feeling? Gritty eyes can be caused by several conditions, including dry eye. The first step to determine the underlying cause of your symptoms is to have a comprehensive eye exam so we can help you find the right treatment for relief. 

What Causes Gritty Eyes?

A gritty feeling in your eyes can be caused by several things, but one of the most common causes is dryness. When your eyes are dry, the surface of your eyes can become irritated and feel scratchy or gritty. 

Your eyes need tears to stay moist and lubricated. If you have insufficient tears or your tear film’s health is lacking, your eyes can become dry and uncomfortable.

All About Dry Eye Disease

Dry eye disease, also known as dry eye syndrome, is a condition you can develop when your eyes don’t produce enough tears or the quality of your tear film changes. Your tear film is made of 3 components: oil, mucus, and water. If there’s an imbalance in your tear film, it can lead to dryness, redness, and irritation. 

Dry eye is a common condition that affects millions of Americans every year. Symptoms of dry eye can include:

  • A gritty or sandy feeling in your eyes
  • Burning or stinging in your eyes
  • Redness
  • Blurred vision
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Watery eyes 

How Is Dry Eye Diagnosed?

If you’re experiencing grittiness with other dry eye symptoms, we can help determine the cause. During a thorough exam, we can perform tests to look for signs of dry eye by measuring the quantity and quality of your tears.

Other Common Causes of Gritty Eyes

As several conditions can lead to grittiness, it helps to know the accompanying symptoms to differentiate the underlying causes. 

Other than dry eyes, other causes of gritty eyes include:

  • Foreign objects: Sometimes, a foreign object, like dirt or sand particles, can get in your eye, causing a gritty feeling.
  • Allergies: If you have allergic conjunctivitis, usually caused by allergens or irritants, your eyes may become dry, leading to a gritty feeling.
  • Blepharitis: This is inflammation of the edges of your eyelids, which can cause a gritty, burning, or stinging sensation in your eyes. 
  • Photokeratitis: Also known as sunburned eyes, this condition occurs with overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays. It can cause your eyes to feel gritty.
  • Sjogren’s syndrome: This autoimmune condition can lead to dry eyes, and with that can come the feeling of grittiness. 
  • Stye: A stye is a red bump that develops on the edge of your eyelid from an infection. A symptom of a stye is the feeling of something in your eye. 
  • Pink eye (conjunctivitis): This condition is caused by inflammation of the conjunctiva (the transparent membrane that lines your eyelid). A common symptom of pink eye is a gritty feeling in one or both eyes. 
  • Corneal abrasion: A corneal abrasion is a scratch on your cornea (the transparent front part of your eye). A symptom of corneal abrasions is a gritty feeling in the eye. 
A young man pulling down his upper right cheek to put artificial tears on his right eye. dry eye

Treatment for Gritty Eyes and Dry Eye

The treatment for gritty eyes and dry eyes will depend on the underlying cause of your symptoms. If dry eye causes your symptoms, your doctor may recommend the following treatments:

  • Artificial tears
  • Prescription eye drops 
  • Punctal plugs
  • Hyaluronic acid-based dry eye products
  • Heating masks and lid wipes
  • Zocular eyelid system treatment
  • Omega-3 supplements

Preventing Grittiness in Your Eyes

In some cases, lifestyle changes can also help alleviate symptoms, including the following:

  • If you spend long periods of time staring at a computer screen, take breaks using the 20-20-20 rule (look away from your screen every 20 minutes for 20 seconds at something 20 feet away).
  • Wear sunglasses outdoors to protect your eyes from UV rays and elements such as wind and dry air. 
  • Take omega-3 supplements.
  • Use a humidifier.
  • Use artificial tears to keep your eyes lubricated. 
  • Wear specialty contact lenses for dry eyes.

Support for Clear and Comfortable Vision

A gritty feeling in your eyes can be mild or more severe. Instead of waiting for the sensation to go away on its own, contact our team at Optical Illusions. With a comprehensive eye exam, we can determine the underlying cause of gritty sensations and provide treatments that can help you get relief. 

Written by Dr. Will To

Dr. William To has multiple years of healthcare experience providing design-based ocular care, with an optometric emphasis in Pediatrics, Dry Eye Therapy, and Ocular Surface Disease.

He graduated from UC San Diego with a Bachelor’s in Human Biology and a minor in Psychology and earned his Doctorate in Optometry from Western University of Health Sciences. Dr. Will is regularly invited to several Optometric Conferences and Colleges of Optometry each year to lecture to his colleagues and students, having given over 100 lectures and written several published editorials.

When he’s not caring for his amazing patients, Dr. Will enjoys traveling every chance he gets. As a Bay Area native, he has taken on leadership roles both in the local community and beyond, serving as the President of the Santa Clara County Optometric Society and on several California Optometric Association and American Optometric Association committees. He is actively involved with a variety of community outreach and social programs.

Dr. Will is an avid Golden State Warriors and 49ers fan.

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