If you have been experiencing eye problems, you should check to see how hydrated you are. The importance of proper hydration cannot be stressed enough. It affects every cell, tissue, and organ in your body, and this does not exclude eye health.
The eyes are dependent on a proper fluid balance in the body. Without water, the tear ducts stop producing tears, and the eyes lose the lubrication they need to function properly.
Of course, you could apply a quick fix to this issue by using eye drops. However, paying closer attention to your hydration levels is paramount if you want to avoid the more serious consequences of having dehydrated eyes.
Chronically dehydrated eyes can lead to a variety of problems that go beyond the trouble of wearing contact lenses. The most common ones include eye fatigue, blurred vision, itchiness, and irritation, to name a few. And if dehydration is persistent, you may well face much more detrimental effects such as cataracts, ulcers on your cornea, and retinal vascular disease.
So, what is the connection between proper hydration and eye health? In this blog post, we explain what it is you need to know and how you can improve your eye health with something as simple as water.
The Relationship between Healthy Eyes and Proper Hydration
Proper hydration is important for the body on a cellular level – after all, two thirds of our bodies are made of water. This means that every organ depends on proper fluid levels. The eyes are mainly made of water, and they depend on it, both on a cellular level and in terms of circulation and lubrication.
One of the most easily observed interactions between the eyes and water are the tears. They play a crucial part in the functioning of the eyes by constantly bathing them in moisture.
Tears help the eyes in several ways: helping to wash away debris, preventing bacteria from causing infections, and helping light enter the eye more easily. One of their main components is water, and, in a properly hydrated body, they supply constant lubrication to the eyes.
The cornea is the transparent front part of the eye that covers the iris. Its biomechanical properties are largely determined by the corneal stroma, which is made of around 80% water and is the thickest layer of the cornea.
The transparency of the corneal stroma is highly dependent on hydration levels. At optimal hydration levels, the corneal stroma functions properly, letting all the light into the eye. The higher the water content, the lower the refractive index of the corneal tissue, meaning more light can enter the eye.
Another important element of the eye is the aqueous humor, which is made of 98% water and carries important ingredients necessary for a proper functioning of the eye, especially those parts that are not connected to the vascular system.
It is located above the iris, behind the cornea, in what is known as the anterior chamber. It serves to maintain intraocular pressure, provide nutrition to the lens and other elements, defend against pathogens, and plays a role in the passage of light, among other things.
Irregularities in the balance of the aqueous humor that cause liquid buildup can lead to glaucoma. Although the reasons behind these irregularities are still unclear, a study has observed that proper hydration can have a positive effect on this condition.
The lens is the final filter through which the light passes, and has the function of focusing it on the retina. Water here also plays an important role, as the lens is estimated to contain 63.4% water in its nucleus and 68.6% water in its cortex.
The rest of the lens is primarily made up of protein. In a properly hydrated body, the water balance in the lens helps the eye maintain the necessary clarity of vision.
The Optic Nerve and the Retina
The optic nerve and the retina are dependent on proper blood circulation as a means of nourishment and proper functioning. And, hydration levels play a role in how these processes take place. It has been observed that patients who suffer from chronic dehydration exhibit problems related to the optic nerve and the retina.
Dehydration: Its Risks and Consequences to Eye Health
With water playing a major role in how our eyes work, it is undoubtedly clear that dehydration will have adverse effects on our vision and general comfort in the eye region.
When the water balance in the tears becomes disrupted, it becomes difficult for the eyes to stay lubricated. This can lead to dry eye, eye strain, and blurry vision.
Additionally, since there is an essential lack in the protective film of the eyes, a variety of dirt, dust, and other debris can enter your eyes and lead to more serious conditions, such as bloodshot eyes, inflammation, and infections that can pose a threat to your vision.
In the case of eye dehydration, it is not only the tear quantity that becomes reduced by dehydration. Dehydration can take a toll on all the elements of the eye that are primarily made of water, such as the cornea and the lens, as well as the vascular behavior in the eye nerve and the retina. This can lead to more serious vision problems, such as cataracts, refractive changes, and retinal vascular disease.
Here are some of the most common eye health risks related to dehydration:
Dry Eye Syndrome
Dehydration of the eyes most commonly results in dry eye, a condition which affects most of us at some point in our lives. While other conditions and circumstances can also lead to dry eye, dehydration has a direct effect on the water balance in the tears.
The symptoms of dry eye include:
- Irritated and scratchy eyes;
- Stinging or burning;
- Blurry, decreased, or fluctuating vision;
- An increase in mucus;
- Difficulty wearing contact lenses;
- Increased tearing, especially when watching TV, reading, or driving.
The irritation you get from dry eye is due to the lack of the necessary tear film which serves to lubricate and protect the eye. As a means to combat the dehydrated state, the body may begin to produce tears excessively in an attempt to lubricate the eyes.
Being dehydrated makes you more likely to suffer from eye strain. This condition, although annoying and uncomfortable, is not serious, but it is nevertheless a sign that you need to take better care of your eyes.
The symptoms of eye strain include:
- Discomfort in the eye area;
- Itchy, dry, sore, or burning eyes;
- Blurred vision;
- Difficulty focusing;
- Increased sensitivity to light; and
- Watery eyes.
Eye strain is more commonly caused by spending a lot of time in front of screens, reading in dim lighting, driving a car for longer periods of time, or, in short, overusing your eyes. Dehydration only increases the likeliness of it happening due to the reduction in the tear film.
When the body becomes dehydrated, its defensive mechanisms kick in and it begins to stockpile as much fluid as possible. This results in fluid retention in the eye region, making the eyes look puffy and swollen.
This fluid retention can also be the result of too much salt in the body, as well as crying, allergies, conjunctivitis, inflammation of the eyelids, and even sinus problems.
Dehydration is the most common cause of sunken eyes. This is because the skin under the eyes is delicate and more sensitive to hydration levels. Sunken eyes can be the result of other causes, too, such as aging, vitamin deficiencies, sleep issues, weight loss, smoking, allergies, and other conditions.
In some cases of dehydration, you could even end up with yellow eyes. However, if this happens, it is advisable to visit a health care professional, as yellow eyes can be indicative of some more serious health issues.
Although there is little data on the relationship between cataracts and dehydration, scientists have observed a relationship between the total water content of the eye lens and the formation of cataracts.
Cataracts can form in cases of severe dehydration, as dehydration directly affects the water levels of the lens. The risk of cataracts has also been observed among diabetic patients who have lower lens water levels.
The hydration of the lens decreases with age, making the lens harder and more susceptible to cataract formation. This can also happen because of excess hydration, which leads to premature lens ageing.
The corneal stroma, as we discussed earlier, is dependent on healthy levels of water. The higher the water content, the easier light passes through it unaffected. In cases of dehydration, the refraction becomes larger, and this can result in vision problems, such as myopia (nearsightedness).
Central Retinal Vein Occlusion (CRVO)
CRVO is a condition in which the main vein that drains blood from the retina closes off either partially or completely. This can lead to blurred vision and even blindness. One study has observed cases where this condition was developed after an episode of dehydration.
How to Support Eye Health with Healthy Hydration Practices
Bearing in mind that the eye is primarily made of water and needs water to function properly, proper hydration is essential to support the health of your eyes.
Even when some of the more common eye problems happen because of external factors, such as lack of humidity or overuse of the eyes, keeping yourself well-hydrated can help to combat these problems.
So, here are some healthy hydration practices you can follow to make sure your eyes stay healthy:
- Drink a glass of water as soon as you wake up. To ensure you do not forget this part of your daily routine, you could keep an eye-catching copper vessel next to your bed.
- Drink at least a glass of water before, during, and after your workout.
- Drink plenty of hydrating drinks.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables and introduce soups into your diet.
- Always keep your water bottle handy, as it will help remind you to drink water more frequently.
- On hot days, drink more water than you normally would, as your body will sweat more to regulate body temperature.
The Bottom Line
Taking care of hydrating yourself properly is paramount not only for eye health, but for the whole body. Keeping yourself properly hydrated will also give you the necessary energy and vitality to take care of your daily activities. However, be careful not to become overhydrated, as this can also have adverse effects on your vision and your overall health.
About the Authors: This article was collaboratively written by our team of researchers and writers with the benefit of all available scientific studies and other relevant literature. Our team of researchers and writers include experienced health researchers including a qualified medical professional. Please note that information in this article is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.