Why Do I Have Dry Eye in One Eye? What to Know

Medically Reviewed By Leela Raju, MD

Having one dry eye may be caused by factors such as irritating weather, wearing contact lenses, or looking at digital screens. However, in some cases, dry eye in one eye can also indicate an underlying condition, such as evaporative dry eye or Sjögren disease. Having one dry eye can lead to a range of uncomfortable symptoms. Along with stinging, burning, or a gritty feeling, you may also experience:

  • a feeling of pressure, pain, or redness in the eye
  • blurry vision
  • heavy eyelids, excessive blinking, or a twitching eyelid
  • sensitivity to light

Many factors and conditions can lead to dryness in one eye, including day-to-day factors and underlying health conditions.

While not all cases are caused by underlying conditions, contact an eye doctor immediately for any persistent, concerning, or recurring symptoms. They can help diagnose the cause and provide any necessary treatment.

Read on to learn more about why you have one dry eye, when to see a doctor, diagnosis, and treatment.

What causes dry eye in one eye?

Someone closes their eyes while holding a bottle of eye drops.
Taras Grebinets/Getty Images

Having dry eye in one eye can stem from various factors.

Possible causes of dryness in one eye include:

  • wearing contact lenses
  • being over 50 years old
  • looking at digital screens for a long time
  • smoking
  • drinking alcohol
  • taking certain medications, such as Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source some antihistamines, blood pressure medications, or antidepressants
  • being in certain environmental conditions, such as:
    • air-conditioned or heated environments
    • places with cold or dry weather
    • windy or dusty places

Learn about the possible causes of waking up with dry eyes.

Sometimes, having a dry eye can be a symptom of an underlying health condition.

Read more about conditions linked to dry eye below.

Sjögren disease

Sjögren disease is an autoimmune disorder that causes Trusted Source National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases Governmental authority Go to source the immune system to damage the glands that produce tears and saliva.

Experts do not yet know what causes Sjögren disease. However, they believe genetic variations and environmental factors may be responsible.

Evaporative dry eye

Evaporative dry eye is a type of dry eye disease. Having dry eye disease means your tears are unable Trusted Source National Eye Institute Governmental authority Go to source to keep the eyes continually moist.

It occurs Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source when the meibomian glands, located along the edges of your eyelids where the lashes are, do not produce enough oils or lipids. This lack of oils allows more water to evaporate from the eye. 

Evaporative dry eye may be one of the more common causes Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source of dry eye. It can develop for several reasons, including:

  • eyelid inflammation
  • blockage of the meibomian glands
  • rosacea or eczema on the eyelid or around the eye
  • eczema on the eyelid or around the eye
  • eye infection

Aqueous deficient dry eye (ADDE)

Another type of dry eye disease, ADDE occurs when the gland responsible for tear production cannot make enough tears.

Sjögren disease is a common cause Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source of ADDE, although other causes include:

  • genetics
  • certain medications
  • radiation treatment
  • eye injury or surgery
  • Steven-Johnson syndrome

Blepharitis

Blepharitis refers to when the eyelids become inflamed. It may cause Trusted Source National Eye Institute Governmental authority Go to source feelings of dryness as well as:

  • eye redness
  • swollen eyelids
  • itchy eye
  • dandruff-like dry skin on the eyes
  • light sensitivity
  • crusty eyelids or eyelashes
  • foamy tears
  • burning or stinging

Often, blepharitis is caused by bacterial infections or irritated oil glands in the eyes.

Other infection

Other types of infection that occur in an eye may cause feelings of dryness.

Other symptoms apart from dryness that may indicate an eye infection include:

  • eye redness
  • a feeling of burning or grittiness in the eye
  • itchy eye
  • pus in the eye

Read about the causes of one eye burning or watering.

Lupus

Lupus is another autoimmune condition that can cause rashes, joint or muscle pain, and extreme fatigue.

It may also lead to dry eye, as well as symptoms such as:

When should I contact a doctor?

Contact an eye doctor as soon as possible if you experience persistent, recurring, or worsening symptoms of dry eye.

While some temporary environmental situations, such as mild weather, may not require treatment, consistent or worsening symptoms may indicate an underlying condition that does require medical care. 

Also, talk with an eye doctor immediately if you:

  • notice any symptoms of eye infection
  • experience changes in your vision quality such as blurry vision
  • have any severe symptoms such as severe pain
  • have eye symptoms after an injury

How is dry eye in one eye diagnosed?

To help identify the reason why you have dry eye in one eye, your eye doctor will start by asking about your symptoms and medical history.

They will then carry out an eye exam, such as a comprehensive dilated eye exam. A comprehensive dilated eye exam uses many noninvasive Trusted Source National Eye Institute Governmental authority Go to source tests to examine your vision quality and eye health.

For example, a dilated eye exam may include an eye doctor using a slit lamp microscope to look into your eyes.

Sometimes a doctor may need to order other tests, such as blood tests, to help identify or rule out other health conditions.

How do you treat dry eye in one eye?

Treating your dry eye can vary depending on the underlying cause.

Examples of possible treatments your doctor may recommend include Trusted Source National Eye Institute Governmental authority Go to source :

  • Artificial tears: Artificial tears are a type of eye drop that moistens the eye and mimics natural tears to provide relief. Artificial tears are an over-the-counter (OTC) eye drop. You can also ask your doctor or a pharmacist about other OTC eye ointments or gels. 
  • Prescription medications: If you have a severely dry eye, your doctor may prescribe a prescription medication to help your eye make more tears. 
  • Tear duct plugs: A doctor may place small plugs, called punctal plugs, into your tear duct to help prevent your tears from draining so fast. To do this, they may numb the eye area with anesthesia to reduce discomfort.
  • Surgery: In rare cases, doctors may suggest surgery to correct eyelids that are too loose. If your eyelids are too loose, it can cause your tears to drain too quickly from your eye, contributing to a dry eye.  

See expert tips for dealing with dry eye.

If you experience a dry eye due to another health condition, such as Sjörgren disease, your primary care doctor will work with you to create a treatment plan to address your underlying condition. For example, they may prescribe additional medication.

If you have any questions about your treatment, you can contact your doctor.

Summary

Environmental conditions, such as dry or dusty weather, wearing contact lenses, or exposure to smoke, may cause one eye to feel dry. However, sometimes a dry eye can be a symptom of an underlying condition such as dry eye disease, blepharitis, Sjögren disease, or lupus.

Treatment for a dry eye can depend on the cause but may include eye drops or prescription medication.

It’s important that you contact an eye doctor as soon as possible if you have any persistent, recurrent, or worsening eye symptoms.

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Medical Reviewer: Leela Raju, MD
Last Review Date: 2023 Dec 14
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.