Systemic Diseases that Cause Dry Eyes

Author: Premier Eye Associates

Dry eye disease is a condition that many individuals in today’s society are familiar with. The burning sensations from dry eye disease often interrupt daily life and can decrease one’s quality of life.

There are a variety of causes of the disease (i.e. environmental, hygiene) and systemic health conditions can also be the underlying reason. It is important to identify these systemic causes as treatment and diagnosis is a key first step in achieving relief from dry eye symptoms.

Rheumatoid Arthritis is a Common Cause of Dry Eyes

This condition refers to a chronic inflammatory and autoimmune disorder that often affects small joints in the hands and feet. The onset of the condition is usually around the ages of 25 to 50 years of age and is more common in women compared to men.

It is associated with various ocular conditions such as scleritis (inflammation of the white part of the eye), peripheral ulcerative keratitis (an ulcer or multiple ulcers at the edges of the front surface of the eye), and dry eye disease.

The underlying cause for dry eye disease could be the body attacking the glands responsible for creating tears and saliva. When this occurs with arthritis, this is called Sjogren’s Syndrome. Severe dry eyes can cause damage and, if left untreated, have permanent effects on an individual’s vision.

Systemic Lupus Erythematosus

Lupus is an autoimmune disease associated with inflammation of connective tissue throughout the body. It affects the heart, joints, skin, lungs, eyes, and more.

Lupus is nine times more common in women and most prevalent in younger women aged 15 to 35 years. A common sign of lupus is rashes over the nose and cheeks.

This condition can lead to inflammation in various parts of the eye, and inflammation of the front part of the eye can lead to further dryness. In 40 to 50% of lupus cases, the individual will be affected with dry eyes.

Vitamin A Deficiency and Dry Eye Disease

The lack of a vitamin could be due to either deprivation in one’s diet or an issue with metabolism of the vitamin (i.e. coeliac disease, cystic fibrosis, pancreatic disease).

Dry eye disease due to vitamin A deficiency is referred to as xerophthalmia and leads to loss of goblet cells, which are responsible for producing the mucins in tears.

Mucins are important for spreading out and binding the layer of tears to the front surface of the eye. This helps the tear film to be stable and not evaporate so that areas of the front eye surface are not exposed to the outside air.

Thyroid Eye Disease

When the body initiates an autoimmune attack on its own tissues, including the thyroid gland and the eyes, this is called Grave’s disease. The effects include inflammatory cells attacking the muscles that control movement of the eyeball and eyelids.

As a result, the tissues in the eyes swell and the eyelids are unable to easily close over the eyes, resulting in an appearance of wide-eyed staring. This causes the eyeball to be more exposed and thus dries out the front surface. This is otherwise known as exposure keratopathy.

Along with typical treatment like eye drops and other lubricants for the eyes and proper management of the underlying condition, an individual with this condition might benefit from taping their eyelids shut at night to prevent further dryness from inadequate eye closure.


Dr. Anthony Spina and the staff of Premier Eye Associates specialize in glasses, soft contact lenses, hard contact lenses, and medical eye exams. Call our eye doctor in Auburn, AL today at (334) 539-5391 or schedule an appointment online  if you are interested in learning more about how various systemic diseases can cause dry eyes.  Our optometrist provides only the highest quality eye care services amongst eye doctors in the Auburn Alabama area.

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