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Why Do Eyes Feel Gritty and Watery?

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A man sitting at a desk in an office with his laptop and holding his glasses in his right hand as he rubs his eyes

If your eyes feel gritty and watery, as if there’s some sand stuck inside, you could be experiencing a range of chronic or acute conditions. And, you’re not alone. Millions of Americans experience this irritation and discomfort. 

Sometimes, dust or a loose eyelash can irritate your eyes. Other causes of gritty and watery eyes include dry eye disease, blepharitis, or exposure to UV rays. Your eye doctor can diagnose the underlying cause of your symptoms with the help of an eye exam and recommend appropriate treatment options to help you find relief.

Gritty, Watery Eyes & Eye Health

Our eyes are delicate organs that rely on a balanced tear film to function optimally. Your tear film has water, oils, and mucus that covers your eyes’ surface, keeping them smooth and comfortable.

A balanced tear film helps maintain eye health and clear vision with nourishment and lubrication. Tears also protect the eyes against corneal scratches, infections, and foreign materials.

The ingredients in your tear film are responsible for different functions. The inner mucus layer is responsible for keeping your tears adhered to the surface of your eye. If this ingredient is out of balance, it could cause your eyes to feel watery, because your tears won’t stay in your eye.

The outer layer of your tears, made of oil, prevents your tears from evaporating too quickly. If this layer is out of balance, it can cause your eyes to feel gritty and dry.

Dry Eye Disease & Gritty, Watery Eyes

One of the leading causes behind gritty and watery eyes is dry eye disease. Contrary to its name, dry eye doesn’t necessarily mean a lack of tears. It results from an imbalance in the composition of the tears.

When the quantity or quality of tears is insufficient, your eyes can feel gritty and irritated. In response to dry eyes, your tear glands continue producing excess tears, known as reflex tears—but these are usually poor quality. Other symptoms of dry eye disease include:

  • Stinging or burning sensation
  • Red eyes
  • Light sensitivity
  • Blurry vision

Causes of Dry eye Disease

There are several reasons your eyes might experience decreased tear production and increased tear evaporation, such as:

  • Age: Tear production may decrease after age 50.
  • Hormonal changes: Particularly in women during pregnancy, menopause, or while using birth control pills.
  • Environmental factors: Exposure to windy or smoky conditions can accelerate tear evaporation. 
  • Extended screen time: You tend to blink less when focused on digital screens.
  • Certain medications: Antihistamines and decongestants can disrupt tear production.
  • Medical conditions: Diabetes, thyroid disorders, and autoimmune diseases can affect tear production. 
  • Meibomian gland dysfunction: Blockage of the meibomian glands that secrete the oil (meibum) layer in tears affects the quality of tears. 

Treatment for Dry Eye Disease

Treatment for dry eye involves an individualized approach based on the cause and severity of symptoms. For mild, moderate, or severe dry eyes, your doctor may recommend:

  • Artificial tears
  • Prescription medication
  • Tear duct plugs
  • Surgery to alter tear drainage

Lifestyle adjustments can include:

  • Using a humidifier
  • Reducing screen time
  • Staying hydrated
  • Avoiding smoke, dust, wind, and air conditioning


Your optometrist may recommend intense pulsed light (IPL) therapy as a treatment for your dry eye. IPL therapy, like ThermaeyePlus, uses fractionated light pulses that generate heat to help unclog blocked meibomian glands.  

ThermaeyePlus typically takes around 10–15 minutes per treatment. The amount of treatments needed depends on the severity of your dry eye. Your optometrist can create a personalized IPL treatment plan to help you achieve comfortable eyes.


MiBoFlo Thermoflo is a treatment for dry eyes that uses thermoelectric radiation to address meibomian gland dysfunction, which is a common cause of dry eye. By applying controlled heat to the outer eyelids, MiBoFlo stimulates the meibomian glands and promotes the flow of natural oils, helping to alleviate dryness and discomfort.

One of the key advantages of MiBoFlo Thermoflo is its ability to provide relief for those who have struggled with dry eye for an extended period. The therapeutic temperature emitted by the MiBo eye pads helps to melt away clogged oils in the meibomian glands, allowing for improved tear film stability and reduced dry eye symptoms.

Blepharitis & Gritty, Watery Eyes

Another common cause of eyes feeling gritty is blepharitis, a condition where the margin of the eyelids becomes inflamed. It can lead to small bumps and crusts around the eyelashes, irritation, and redness in your eyes. 

Blepharitis can occur due to many factors, such as:

  • Bacterial infections
  • Dandruff
  • Rosacea

Managing blepharitis often involves proper eyelid hygiene, warm compresses, and sometimes, prescription medications to alleviate symptoms and restore the natural flow of tears to your eyes.

Photokeratitis & Gritty, Watery Eyes

Photokeratitis is akin to a sunburn on the cornea (the transparent outer layer of the eye) caused by overexposure to UV rays, often reflected off snow, sand, or water. Symptoms of photokeratitis can include a gritty sensation, tearing, and sensitivity to light. 

Wear sunglasses with UV protection for outdoor activities or from reflective surfaces to protect your eyes from harmful UV rays. Visit your eye doctor if you feel like your eyes might have a sunburn. 

When to See Your Eye Doctor

Combatting the gritty sensation in your eyes may involve a combination of lifestyle adjustments and practical strategies that the team at Pacific Pier Optometry can help with. 

However, if the gritty feeling is from an injury or something stuck in your eye, this could be an eye emergency. In this case, book an appointment with your eye doctor immediately. 

Close-up of a man undergoing a slit-lamp exam

Personalized Treatment for Symptom Relief

Since gritty and watery eyes can have several underlying causes, it’s advisable not to ignore them or wait until they resolve. When you discuss your symptoms with your eye doctor, they can tailor a treatment plan specific to your needs to achieve symptom relief and clear, comfortable vision. 

If you’re constantly battling gritty and watery eyes, book an appointment with Pacific Pier Optometry for a comprehensive eye exam. 

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Written by Dr. Dianna Kattengell

Dr. Dianna Kattengell (Dr. K) is a therapeutic optometrist with more than 15 years of industry experience. She earned her doctor of optometry (OD) degree from the Southern California College of Optometry and her B.A. from Texas Christian University.

Specializing in primary eye care for patients of all ages, Dr. K is trained in the diagnosis and management of eye diseases, low vision therapy, fitting specialty contact lenses, and preoperative and postoperative care.

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