When the eyes become shiny or glazed, they are often described as glassy. This effect is common and sometimes more of a nuisance than a cause for concern. However, glassy eyes can indicate a more serious condition.

The treatment for glazed or glassy eyes depends on the underlying cause. After identifying and treating the cause, a person can take steps to prevent this symptom from recurring.

What are the causes of glassy eyes?

Dry eyes

Glassy eyes in patient having eye exam from optician and doctor.
Glassy eyes are often caused by strain.

Tears lubricate the eyes, which become dry when there is limited or no tear production.

Dry eyes can take on a glassy appearance. This is often the result of too much time spent looking at a computer screen, but it can also result from eye surgery.

Eye drops can replace a lack of tears and are available to purchase over-the-counter or online.

Allergies

Allergic reactions can affect the sinuses and eyes. Often the eyes become irritated and itchy, causing them to appear red and glassy.

Common allergens that affect eyes include:

  • dust
  • pollen
  • makeup and other products applied to the eyes or surrounding skin
  • pet dander

Eye drops and medications containing loratadine or diphenhydramine can reduce symptoms associated with allergies. They are available to buy over-the-counter or online.

Intoxication

When a person has consumed alcohol or used any street drug, their eyes may become glazed. The condition is most common in people who use marijuana or drink alcohol excessively.

These substances affect the central nervous system, which controls subconscious responses such as blinking. The eyes become dry when blinking ceases or slows down, resulting in a glassy appearance.

An intoxicated person often has:

  • slurred speech
  • drowsiness
  • irritability
  • a lack of balance

A doctor can test the blood, breath, and urine for signs of intoxication. Detox often takes several hours, after which the eyes usually lose their glassiness.

Certain medications

Some medications can cause the appearance of glassy eyes. Like drugs or alcohol, these suppress the central nervous system. This reduces blinking and can dry out the eyes.

Dehydration

Dry, glassy eyes can be a symptom of dehydration, especially in children.

Other symptoms may include:

While drinking water often reverses the effects of mild dehydration, severe cases may require a hospital visit and intravenous fluids.

Signs of severe dehydration include:

  • a lack of saliva
  • no urination for 6 hours or longer
  • extreme dry mouth
  • fatigue

When any of these symptoms are present, seek medical care.

Conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis is commonly referred to as pink eye. Bacteria, viruses, or fungi may be responsible, and the infection is highly contagious. The infected eye will turn red and glassy. A crust may form around the edges.

See a doctor to determine the cause and best course of action. Treatment will usually involve medicated eye drops.

Herpes

Eye herpes
Herpes may cause glassy eyes and blisters on the eyelids..

Herpes is a sexually transmitted disease that typically affects the mouth and genitals. The strain that causes oral symptoms can cause issues with the eyes.

Eye-related symptoms include:

  • sensitivity to light
  • redness
  • glassiness
  • excessive tears
  • blisters on the eyelids

Graves’ disease

This autoimmune disease causes the eyelid to retract more than usual. Graves’ disease can cause the eyes to dry out and appear glassy and uncommonly large.

Other symptoms may include:

  • weight loss
  • a swollen neck
  • thinning hair

Hypoglycemia

Hypoglycemia occurs when a person’s blood sugar is low, and it is common in cases of diabetes.

In addition to glassy eyes, symptoms of hypoglycemia include:

  • pale skin
  • sweating
  • blurred vision
  • shaky hands
  • dizziness or lightheadedness

Hypoglycemia can have dangerous complications if left untreated. Consuming carbohydrates or sugary drinks can treat mild symptoms, but a person with severe hypoglycemia should receive medical attention.

Cholera

Cholera is a bacterial infection that is rare in the United States. It is typically spread through contact with contaminated water.

Cholera outbreaks often occur in parts of:

  • the Caribbean
  • Africa
  • Asia, particularly India and Pakistan

Some symptoms of cholera include:

Cholera can be fatal if left untreated. Treatment often involves rehydration and antibiotics.

Ways to prevent glassy eyes

A person should:

Stay hydrated

The easiest way to prevent dehydration is to drink more water throughout the day. When a person is properly hydrated, their eyes are unlikely to appear glassy.

Reduce screen time

woman looking at computer monitor screens at work.
Resting the eyes after prolonged screen time may help to prevent a number of eye problems.

Spending too long staring at a screen can strain the eyes and cause them to dry out.

The American Optometric Association recommend:

  • placing the screen 4–5 inches below the eye line
  • sitting 20–28 inches from the screen
  • resting the eyes for 15 minutes after 2 hours of screen time

Visit the eye doctor regularly

A person should visit the eye doctor once a year. Attending regular checkups can help an ophthalmologist or optometrist to identify conditions early.

The doctor can also recommend healthy habits that will prevent symptoms such as glassy eyes.

Avoid sharing eye products

The National Eye Institute warn against sharing products that come into contact with the eyes, to prevent the spread of infections such as pink eye.

Keep the hands clean

A person should avoid touching the eyes directly, and ensure that their hands are clean before touching the surrounding area.

Wash the hands thoroughly before changing contact lenses.

Avoid alcohol abuse

Several systems of support are available for people who want to reduce the amount of alcohol they consume.

Takeaway

When a person receives treatment for the underlying cause of glassy eyes, the symptom will resolve.

It is important to report any accompanying symptoms, which can signal a more serious condition. In many cases, the conditions responsible for glassy eyes are easy to treat.