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Natural Remedies for Dry Eyes

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Updated May 23, 2014

A pile of gelatin capsules containing fish oil high in omega-3.
Oddman47/Wikimedia Commons/CC0 1.0

What Is Dry Eye Syndrome?

Dry eye syndrome (also known as dry eye, dysfunctional tear syndrome, lacrimal keratoconjunctivitis, and evaporative tear deficiency) occurs when the eyes don't produce enough to tears to stay properly lubricated. In some cases, sufficient tears are produced, but the tears are of poor quality and evaporate too rapidly.

Tears play a key role in promoting clear vision, warding off infection, and keeping the front surface of the eye healthy. When left untreated, dry eye syndrome can lead to pain, damage to the cornea, and some loss of vision.

Natural Remedies for Dry Eye

To date, the use of complementary and alternative medicine in treatment of dry eye syndrome has not been extensively studied. However, preliminary research suggests that omega-3 fatty acids show promise as a natural approach to dry eye relief.

Related: Omega-3 Fatty Acids: What You Need to Know.

In a 2009 study, for instance, scientists found that feeding rats a diet containing a combination of gamma-linolenic acid, eicosapentaenoic acid, and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) led to a significant reduction in dry eye symptoms. In an earlier study on mice, topical application of the omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid was shown to reverse the signs of dry eye syndrome (as well as the inflammatory changes characteristic of the condition).

Found in oily fish (such as salmon and mackerel), flaxseed, and chia seeds, omega-3 fatty acids can also be consumed in supplement form.

Causes of Dry Eye

Although dry eye syndrome is most prevalent among adults over age 65, the condition affects people of all ages. Here are some common causes:

  • use of medications such as antihistamines, nasal decongestants, birth control pills, antidepressants, and blood pressure medicines
  • use of hormone replacement therapy
  • LASIK (or Laser-Assisted In Situ Keratomileusis, a surgical procedure intended to reduce dependency on corrective lenses)
  • allergies
  • infrequent blinking due to staring at computer or video screens for long periods of time
  • long-term use of contact lenses
  • complications resulting from rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Sjogren's syndrome and other autoimmune disorders
  • chronic conjunctivitis
  • Symptoms of Dry Eye

    Symptoms of dry eye can include:

  • a stinging, burning, or gritty feeling in the eye
  • excess watering of the eyes, followed by periods of dryness
  • a stringy discharge from the eye
  • blurred vision
  • sensitivity to light
  • redness of the eye
  • decreased tolerance of activities requiring prolonged periods of visual attention (such as reading or working on the computer)
  • eye fatigue
  • discomfort when wearing contact lenses
  • Treatment

    Standard treatments for dry eye syndrome include the use of anti-inflammatory medication, devices that plug the holes where tears drain from the eye, and surgery to permanently close the eye's drainage holes. However, using over-the-counter artificial tears, gels, or ointments is typically recommended as the first line of treatment for dry eye syndrome.

    Other Tips to Get Relief

    The following strategies may help reduce dry eye symptoms:

  • using artificial tears
  • avoiding dry conditions
  • breaking frequently when performing activities that require prolonged periods of visual attention
  • using a humidifier to increase the moisture of indoor air
  • keeping smoke or air (from fans or heaters, for instance) from blowing into your eyes
  • drinking at least eight glasses of water daily
  • wearing sunglasses when outdoors
  • wearing glasses that fit close to your face
  • Sources:

    Rashid S, Jin Y, Ecoiffier T, Barabino S, Schaumberg DA, Dana MR. "Topical omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids for treatment of dry eye." Archives of Ophthalmology 2008 126(2):219-25.

    Viau S, Maire MA, Pasquis B, Grégoire S, Acar N, Bron AM, Bretillon L, Creuzot-Garcher CP, Joffre C. "Efficacy of a 2-month dietary supplementation with polyunsaturated fatty acids in dry eye induced by scopolamine in a rat model." Graefe's Archive for Clinical and Experimental Ophthalmology 2009 247(8):1039-50.

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