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Can Alcohol Cause Dry Eyes?

To Pour or Not to Pour? Understanding Alcohol’s Effect on Dry Eyes

(I-MED Pharma)

Have you found that your dry eye symptoms get worse after a night out, and now you’re asking yourself “can alcohol cause dry eyes”? In fact, alcohol may be playing a role in the cause of your dry eye symptoms, or at the very least, making them worse.

Properties of Alcohol and Dry Eye

Does Alcohol Affect Dry Eyes?

Does alcohol affect dry eyes? Generally speaking, alcohol is a diuretic, which has dehydrating properties. This is important in understanding its effect on dry eye disease, seeing as the more the body is dehydrated, the more the salt level increases in the blood and tears. A higher level of salt in the tears can bring on hyperosmolarity. This increase of salt in the tears can cause the tears to evaporate quicker, and then cause dryness in the eye.

Potential Complications of Alcohol

→ Inflammation

There is also a relationship between alcohol and inflammation. Alcohol can cause inflammatory responses in the body, which can exacerbate symptoms of dry eye.  If the level of salt in the tears is high, tears are more likely to evaporate quickly, and they will be unable to meet the functional need of moisturizing the eye. This results in inflammation and irritation, causing symptoms of dry eye. Additionally, alcohol not only contains a chemical called histamine, but it also spurs the immune system to make more, which then boosts inflammation throughout the body. [1] Furthermore, there is also a significance between blepharitis and alcohol, where blepharitis is defined as inflammation of the eyelids. This increase in the body’s inflammation can then affect the severity of the ocular symptoms.

→ Ocular migraines

Can alcohol cause ocular migraines? A common trigger for ocular migraines is alcohol, namely red wine. [2] Though the cause of migraines isn’t entirely scientifically understood, many theories point to alcohol causing adverse reactions including ocular migraines. These migraines are different from traditional headaches seeing as they disrupt vision and can occur without pain. On a non-ocular level, alcohol has also been known as a trigger for regular migraines and headaches, even after drinking.

→ Vision Issues

In general, being intoxicated with alcohol can affect vision, such as blurry vision, double vision, a poor perception to environmental changes, among other complications. Additionally, chronic, heavy alcohol consumption can lead to a vitamin B1 (thiamine) depletion, and this nutritional deficiency can cause Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (WKS), a life-threatening brain disorder that can cause a severe and temporary condition characterized by abnormal eye movements and vision changes, among other symptoms. [3] For individuals who suffer from Wernicke’s encephalopathy, the nerves in the eye may become paralyzed, which can lead to involuntary eye movements, drooping eyelids, and difficulty tracking objects properly. [4]

→ Alcohol Withdrawal

Beyond the fact that dry eye symptoms can worsen with alcohol consumption, symptoms of dry eyes can be due to alcohol withdrawal. Alcohol withdrawal can cause a central nervous system dysfunction, causing the messages being sent between the body, brain, and spinal cord to get mixed. If the messages within the body aren’t communicating accordingly, this can affect the ability of the glands that produce tears to not work as well, causing bouts of dry eye. [5]

→ Additional Complications

Over time, in relationship to ocular health, excessive alcohol use may increase the risk of:

  • Accelerated age-related macular degeneration
  • Diabetic retinopathy
  • Central retinal vein occlusion, or a blockage in the blood vessel of the retina
  • Nutritional optic neuropathy, or vision changes from a nutritional deficiency
  • Glaucoma
  • Age-related cataracts
  • Central serous chorioretinopathy, or fluid accumulation under the retina
  • Damage to ocular tissues, from the cornea and conjunctiva to the retina and optic nerve [6]
  • Vitamin transport disruption throughout the body, leading to decreased vitamin levels.

Gender Difference

A 2021 study titled, “The relationship between alcohol consumption and dry eye” found an interesting relationship between dry eye sufferers and alcohol. The study results showed that women seemed to be more affected by alcohol’s effect on dry eye symptoms as opposed to men. In fact, though alcohol use significantly increased the risk of symptomatic dry eye in females, contrarily, in male drinkers, increasing alcohol intake had a protective effect on symptomatic dry eye, which was not seen in females. [7]  Though, the study did illustrate that the increase in males should be interpreted with caution, as increased alcohol consumption comes with additional adverse health effects. It does however showcase an importance in understanding how dry eye disease affects women slightly more, and differently than it does men. Explore other risk factors for dry eye.

How to Manage Symptoms

I-RELIEF™️ from I-MED Pharma is an eye mask for dry eyes that provides hot or cold therapy and can help symptoms related to dry eye or alcohol-related headaches. Another way to improve symptoms would be to reduce the consumption of alcohol, especially as age increases, seeing as the aftereffects of alcohol get worse as age increases. On the note of diet, consuming omega-3s for dry eyes is a great way to also help reduce inflammation in the body. I-MED Pharma offers a capsule format and an omega-3 liquid format supplement. Additionally, I-DROP® viscoadaptive preservative-free artificial tears can help provide relief from the mildest symptoms of dry eye to severe and chronic symptoms, like those suffering from MGD. Plus, incorporating an ocular hygiene routine can help manage uncomfortable symptoms of dry eye including blepharitis.

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[1] Booth, Stephanie. “Alcohol & Migraines: Can Drinking Cause a Migraine Headache?” Edited by Jennifer Robinson, WebMD, WebMD, 25 Jan. 2022,

[2] “Ocular Migraine.” American Optometric Association,

[3] Geoffrion, Lauren, and Wendy Manwarren Generes. “Drug Effects on Eyes: Redness, Dilated & Pinpoint Pupils.” American Addiction Centers, 1 Jan. 2024,

[4] Geoffrion, Lauren, and Wendy Manwarren Generes. “Drug Effects on Eyes: Redness, Dilated & Pinpoint Pupils.” American Addiction Centers, 1 Jan. 2024,

[5] Gillette, Hope. “Alcohol and Dry Eyes: Is There a Connection?” Edited by Grace Zhang, Healthline, Healthline Media, 25 Oct. 2023,

[6] Karimi Saeed, Arabi Amir, Shahraki Toktam. “Alcohol and the Eye” J Ophthalmic Vis Res, 29 April 2021,

[7] Vehof, Jelle, et al. “The Relationship between Alcohol Consumption and Dry Eye.” The Ocular Surface, Elsevier, 21 May 2021,