How Sleeping Can Worsen Dry Eyes

by Feb 18, 2020

Do you wake up in the morning with dry eyes?  Do uncomfortable symptoms such as burning or grittiness ever cause you to awaken in the middle of the night?  If you have experienced either of these, you may be affected by nighttime dryness. While you may believe that your eyes are protected overnight while you are sleeping and your eyes are closed, there could be some underlying conditions that mean nighttime is actually the most damaging time.  Continue reading to learn what nighttime factors may be worsening your symptoms of dry eye disease.  


What Causes Overnight Dryness?

Overnight dryness is more common than you think, and it is usually caused by a condition called lagophthalmos.  In this condition, the eyelids do not properly close during sleep. Instead of completely covering the eyes, in lagophthalmos the eyelids may not fully close, or may slowly drift open throughout the night.  This condition results in a portion of the eye’s front surface being exposed for long periods of time, which causes the corneal tissue to be malnourished or damaged. Those affected by lagophthalmos usually wake up with very irritated, red, and uncomfortable eyes.  For some people, this condition is very minor and only a small portion of the lower cornea is affected. For others, it can result in damage to a large area of the ocular surface. Your optometrist can identify cases of lagophthalmos during a routine exam by closely examining your ocular surface and looking for a distinct pattern of irritation near the lower part of the eye which is most likely to be exposed.  

Luckily, this condition is easily treated.  In order to prevent dryness from occurring throughout the night, your doctor may recommend an ophthalmic ointment which can be used overnight to cover the surface of the eye and prevent damage due to exposure.  While this ointment is thick and may blur your vision in the evening, it is highly effective in nourishing the eye. If your signs and symptoms of lagophthalmos are more mild, your eye doctor may simply recommend using artificial tears before bed and upon awakening to reduce the associated discomfort.  


Other Nighttime Risk Factors for Dry Eyes

Many people are unaware that sleep apnea can increase the risk of dry eye disease due to overnight dryness.  The treatment for sleep apnea is commonly a device called a continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, machine.  Many CPAP devices use a mask that fits over the nose and mouth to provide a constant flow of oxygen throughout the night.  While this machine works wonderfully in the treatment of sleep apnea, it can cause significant eye problems in the case of a poorly fitting mask.  If oxygen is escaping the mask and bombarding the ocular surface throughout the entire night, it can dramatically worsen symptoms of overnight dryness.  Beyond the risk factors associated with the CPAP mask, individuals with sleep apnea are also more at risk for dry eye disease due to a condition known as Floppy Eyelid Syndrome.  This eyelid condition causes lids to become loose over time, and frequently results in the eyelids unknowingly flipping over throughout the night. Both floppy eyelid syndrome and poorly fitting CPAP machines mean those with sleep apnea are at a much higher risk for experiencing overnight dryness. 

Connect With Us

Let’s continue the conversation over on your social network of choice.

At Nittany Eye Associates, you will receive only the highest quality eye exam with our eye doctors in the State College, PA and surrounding areas. Call us at (814) 234-2015 or schedule an appointment online with one of our highly trained optometrists in State College. The next time you need an evaluation for dryness at nighttime or dry eyes while sleeping be sure to Nittany Eye Associates where we put always put the care of you and your family first at our convenient locations in State College, Matilda, Spring Mills, Tyrone, and Lock Haven PA areas.



Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Font Resize