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Gritty Eyes, Meaning, Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Remedies

by Dr. Joe Morales

Dry or gritty eyes is a common condition most people complain about.  It often occurs as a result of your eyes not producing enough tears (that lubricate your eyes) or as a result of tears evaporating too quickly from the eyes.

There are a lot of things that can cause your eyes to become dry, red, swollen and irritated.  Common such condition is dry eyes syndrome. This article offers an insight into some of these conditions, their symptoms and effective treatment.

Gritty feeling in eye

What does it mean to have gritty feeling in eyes?  The sensation can be described as having sand in your eyes. Eye irritation, gritty or scratchy feeling in eyes are common symptoms of dry eyes. Dry eyes is a common disorder especially in old people above 40 years of age.

Dry eye refers to the chronic reduction in the quality and quantity of tears. As mentioned, this occurs when your tears glands fail to produce enough tears or the tears produced evaporates too quickly from the eyes. This cause insufficient lubrication that causes the gritty feeling.

If untreated, dry eyes can cause mild to severe discomfort and damage to the cornea and the conjunctiva. In most cases, gritty or foreign body sensation in eyes will often be accompanied by the flowing symptoms:

  • Redness and swelling around eyes
  • Burning sensation
  • Increased sensitivity to lights among others.

If this symptom persists, we recommend you have a proper medical diagnosis to establish what the underlying cause might be for effective treatment and management of the resulting symptoms.

What causes eyes to feel gritty?

Chronic dry eyes is the most common cause of gritty or sandy sensation in eyes. Most cases are harmless and will often clear without treatment, others are serious and when untreated could lead to serious complications like permanent vision loss.

Common cause includes the following:

1. after cataract surgery

A cataract surgery is a medical procedure done to remove the lens of your eye. In most case, the lens is replaced with an artificial lens. This procedure can cause your eyes to become cloudy and may affect your vision. The procedure is common and generally safe.

2. Conjunctivitis

Commonly referred to as pink eyes, conjunctivitis is a common cause of dry eyes and a gritty feeling in eyes.  Conjunctivitis is an inflammation or infection of the conjunctiva, the transparent layer that lines your eyelid and covers the white part of your eyeball.

Your eyes have a lot of blood vessels that become inflamed and more visible. This is what causes your eye to become red or pink. Common cause of this condition includes bacterial and viral infection, allergic reactions or blocked tear ducts (especially in children)

The sand sensation in eyes caused by conjunctivitis can be irritating but it rarely affects your vision. Bacterial and viral conjunctivitis is contagious, early diagnosis and treatment will help ease the symptoms and limit its spread.

3. Dry eye syndrome

Dry eyes syndrome or keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS) is a condition marked by chronic dry eyes.  It occurs when your eyes fail to produce enough tears or when small amount of tears produced evaporates too quickly.

In most cases, your tear production process can be disrupted as a result of:

  • Wearing dirt contact lenses
  • Being in windy or hot climate
  • Having inflamed eyelids
  • Or as a side effect of certain medicine

Common symptoms will include the following:

  • Burning sensation in eyes
  • Foreign body sensation in one or both eyes
  • Blurry or filmy vision
  • Increased sensitivity to light
  • Redness and eye irritation
  • Swollen eye

4. Blepharitis

This is a group of condition that affects the eyelid, eyelashes and eyelid glands. The common cause of this condition is a bacterial infection, other people might develop the condition as a result of old age, sin changes or due to poor hygiene.

This condition tends to cause redness and swelling in the eye. When suffering from this condition, one may wake up with crusty eyelids, dried mucus can fall into the eye causing irritation and sandy or gritty sensation.

5. Floppy eyelid syndrome

FES is a rare eye condition characterized by loose upper eyelids that easily turn inside out. This condition is common in overweight middle-aged males. People with floppy eyelid syndrome also suffer from obstructive sleep apnea.

Treatment for this condition involves artificial tears to reduce irritation. In cases of an infection, antibiotic eye drops can be used.

In severe cases, your doctor may recommend you use a tape or an eye shield to keep the eyelid closed while asleep, this will help prevent them from drying out.

6. Medication side effect

The gritty or sandy sensation in eyes an also be a side effect of using some medicine. Some prescription and over the counter medication are known to dehydrate the eyes causing itching, irritation and the sandy sensation.

If the symptom develops after starting on a given medication, notify your doctor about this as soon as possible.

7. Old age

As one grows old, it is common to develop a sense of grittiness in eyes. This can be attributed to decreased tears production. In women, menopausal women tend to experience dry eyes along with other symptoms as a result of hormonal changes in their bodies.

8. Sjorgren’s syndrome

Sjogren’s syndrome is an immune system disorder characterized by dry eyes and dry mouth.  According to mayo clinic, this condition will often accompany other immune system disorders such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

With this condition, the mucous membrane and moisture-secreting glands of the eyes and mouth are usually affected first.  This results in decreased tears and saliva secretion which explains the dry eyes and dry mouth.

9. Corneal abrasion or inflammation  

The cornea is the transparent layer that forms the front of the eye. When this part of your eye come in contact with dust, sand, and wood shavings, these particles may cut or scratch this part of eyes, this is corneal abrasion.

According to mayo clinic, corneal abrasion caused by plant matter such as a pine needle requires special medical attention as they can cause delayed inflammation inside the eye.

Gritty eyes at night

At night, gritty feeling in eyes can be as a result of nocturnal Lagophthalmos. This is a common condition especially in children where one sleeps with their eyes wide open.  With this condition, the eyelids do not close, this leaves the cornea exposed all night long.

Since you are not actively blinking, your eyes dry out and can become inflamed. This causes light sensitivity and a string sandy feeling in eyes when you wake up the next day. In children, this condition can be as a result of anatomical issue. Other causes include;

  • Aggressive eyelid surgery
  • Swollen or raised eyelids

Gritty eyes in the morning

Crusty, sandy or gritty feeling in eyes is common in morning for people with blepharitis. This can be caused by crusty mucus falling into the eyes. Other common causes will include:

Lack of enough sleep

Lack of sleep caused by nocturnal Lagophthalmos or other condition denies your chance to properly lubricate. This can cause them to become red, itchy, swollen and irritated. Lack of sleep can cause dry and inflamed eyelids which in turn causes a gritty feeling in eyes.

Going to bed with makeup

Poor makeup hygiene where one goes to bed without removing the makeup can cause one o have gritty feeling in eyes when they get up in the morning.

Chemical particles in the makeup can enter into your eyes causing irritation and gritty feeling. You can use any of the following options to get rid of the makeup before going to bed:

  • Use makeup remover wipes to clean skin foundation concealer and eyeshadow
  • You can also use a skin toner as a pre-step to cleansing. All you need to do is moisten a cotton pad with few drops then gently wipe across your face, eyes or skin
  • If you are wearing heavy makeup, you can use cleansing oil to remove stubborn eyeliner and mascara without rubbing or tugging
  • To clean and also hydrate the skin, we would recommend you use micellar water. This is an effective makeup removal method. It attracts dirt and makeup as a magnet.

Dirty contact lenses

The sand feeling in eyes can also be as a result of wearing dirt or uncleaned contact lenses. This can be caused either the lenses are starting to dry your eyes out, or because dirt and dust have become trapped under the lenses.

To prevent this, make sure you are wearing the right contact lenses, and regularly clean them. Hygiene is one of the most important factors in preventing infections and other condition that can affect both the health of your eyes and your long-term vision.

The general guide is:

  • Wash your hand with soap before touching the lenses
  • Use fresh, contact lenses cleaning solution ever time when cleaning them
  • Avoid rubbing your contact lenses with your finger
  • After cleaning the lenses with a fresh solution, leave them overturned and open to dry out

Who is at risk of gritty eyes?

Though this symptom could occur to anyone, some people are more susceptible than others.  Risk factors for gritty, dry eyes include the following:

  1. age, dry eyes are more common in old people, as you grow old tear glands produce fewer tears, which makes your eyes less lubricate.
  2. Due to hormonal changes and fluctuations, women are more likely to develop dry. Swollen, irritated eyes compared to men. Most of these changes are likely to occur during menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause.
  3. Long use of computers and television screen increases tear evaporation
  4. Using contact lenses especially soft contact lenses makes you more susceptible to dry eyes.
  5. Being dehydrated can also cause dry eyes syndrome
  6. High consumption of alcohol and caffeinated beverages
  7. Suffering from a health condition that affects your body’s ability to produce tears also increase your chances of having dry, irritated gritty feeling in eyes. This includes conditions such as diabetes, thyroid disease, arthritis, asthmas, and lupus.
  8. Not having enough sleep, sleeping with your eyes partially open, or exposure to irritants such as dust and pollen can also cause your eyes to dry out.


Depending on what the underlying cause of the sand sensation in eye is, most people are likely to develop the following symptoms:

1. Gritty red eyes

Bloodshot eye or redness in eyes often result from the inflammation or swelling of the blood vessels found on the surface of the eyes.  This can result from allergic reactions, exposure to strong winds, or other condition such as conjunctivitis, blepharitis, and others.

A gentle warm or compress can help relieve the inflammation and reduce the redness and sandy sensation. See your doctor if the redness persists or other symptoms develop.

2. Gritty dry eyes

When your eyes are gritty and dry, this could be a sign of a medical condition such as nocturnal Lagophthalmos, blepharitis or other eye disorders.  In such cases, the eyes are likely to be red, swollen, itchy and irritated.

Mild cases of dry eyes can be managed with artificial tears or other over the counter eye lubricants. If the dryness however persists or cause blurry vision, you may need to have your doctor diagnose the condition and prescribe the right treatment option.

3. Eye feel gritty and watery

Gritty feeling in eyes and watery eyes (epiphora) can be a sign of:

  • Ingrown eyelashes
  • Dry eyes
  • Eyelid laxity or sagging lower eyelid.
  • Partial blockage or
  • Blockage of nasolacrimal duct

4. Eye pain or ophthalmalgia

Eye pain can be categorized into two, ocular pain which occurs on the eye’s surface and orbital pain that occurs within the eye. This symptom is common and in most cases, it is often a sign of serious condition.  In such cases, the pain clears without treatment.

When occurring on the surface, the pain can be a scratching, itching or burning sensation. In this case, the pain is often caused by an irritation from a foreign body, an infection, an injury or a trauma.

Eye pain occurring deeper in the eye may feel aching, gritty, throbbing or stabbing. In such cases, we recommend an in-depth medical diagnosis of what the cause might be for effective and early treatment.  This can also prevent the spread or minimize chances of complications.

Gritty eyes treatment and remedies

Treating the gritty feeling in eyes will often depend on the severity of the symptom and what the underlying cause is. Common treatment option includes:

Artificial Tears

Mild cases of dry eyes or gritty sensation in eyes can be treated with over the counter artificial tears. There are many brands and formulation to choose from. If not sure what to use, have your doctor prescribe the most effective one.

Punctal occlusion

In cases of chronic dry eyes relates to lacrimal gland dysfunction, a punctal occlusion may be recommended. This is a procedure done to reduce done to reduce tears flow by blocking the ducts that drain tears in your eyelids.

Steroid eye drops

Steroids eye drop may be prescribed to relieve swelling or inflammation in upper and lower eyelids and conjunctivitis.  The eye drops can also be used to reduce irritation and redness in eye.

Antihistamine eye drops for allergies

When the underlying cause is an underlying allergic reaction, then antihistamine drops might be used. Most are available over the counter but can also be on prescription.


In severe cases of dry eyes caused by abnormal drainage of tears, your doctor (ophthalmologist) may recommend a surgical procedure to prevent tears from draining away easily.

 To prevent your eyes from drying out in the first place, you could try the following measures:

  • Reduce the amount of time you spend on your computer or television screen
  • Use an eyewash to flush out dirt and makeup particles that may have found their way into your eyes.
  • For those wearing contact lenses, ensure you follow the right procedure when it comes to cleaning and replacing the lenses.
  • Do not wear contact lenses for long, you can try and avoid wearing them anytime you can
  • Do not go to bed with your make up on. We have provided some of the most effective options you can use to get rid of your makeup before going to bed.
  • Use a humidifier to moisten the air when in the house or office
  • You also need to maintain proper diet that includes enough omega-3 and omega-7 fast.


  1. Dry eye syndrome: http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Dry-eye-syndrome/Pages/Introduction.aspx
  2. Feeling of sand in eyes: https://www.whatisdryeye.com/what-is-feeling-of-sand-in-the-eye/
  3. Here’s why your eyes feel like gritty sandpaper right now: https://www.menshealth.com/health/dry-eye-causes
  4. What causes eye pain: https://www.healthline.com/symptom/eye-pain
  5. Bloodshot eyes causes: https://treatpanel.com/bloodshot-eye-no-pain-meaning-causes-treatment/
  6. Effective makeup removal methods: https://www.lorealparisusa.com/beauty-magazine/skin-care/skin-care-essentials/get-clean-skin-4-ways-to-remove-makeup-before-bed.aspx

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1 comment

Stan May 2, 2021 - 2:41 pm

I have a dry eye condition and have found it is being created by having a room fan and A/C placed in the room streaming cool air into my face to be the primary cause of my condition. Therefore, I both direct the flow of air from these units in a direction other than my face and also cover my head with a wrap which prevents any air from directly hitting my face. This helps to solve my own problem.