Natural Remedies for Your Dry Eyes

All-natural solutions and everyday practices may help protect your peepers.

close-up of woman's eye
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If you get dry eyes, you probably know how uncomfortable and even painful the condition can be. When the eyes don't produce enough tears to stay properly lubricated or if tears are poor quality and evaporate too quickly, you may get irritation, inflammation, and blurred vision.

The dryness, scratchiness, and stinging that you feel can be caused by factors in your environment (like the humidity in your home or the position of your computer monitor) or by underlying medical conditions.

Symptoms

Tears play a key role in promoting clear vision, warding off infection, and keeping the front surface of the eye clean and moist. Symptoms of dry eye can include:

  • Stinging, burning, or gritty feeling in the eye
  • Excess watering of the eyes, followed by periods of dryness
  • Stringy discharge from the eye
  • Blurry vision, double vision, or vision loss
  • Light sensitivity
  • 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

Causes

There are a number of reasons why you may be getting dry eyes. As we get older, the risk of getting dry eyes increases, but there are some medical conditions, medications, and lifestyle factors that can make you more likely to develop dry eye:

  • Medications such as antihistamines, nasal decongestants, hormone replacement therapy, birth control pills, antidepressants, retinoids, diuretics, and blood pressure medicines
  • Allergies that affect your eyes
  • Infrequent blinking due to staring at computer screens or electronic devices for long periods of time
  • Long-term use of contact lenses
  • Complications resulting from rheumatoid arthritislupus, Sjogren's syndrome, and other autoimmune disorders
  • Chronic conjunctivitis
  • Skin conditions, such as psoriasis or rosacea
  • Fat malabsorption or deficiency
  • Nutritional deficiencies (like vitamin A or vitamin B12 deficiency)
  • Cigarette smoking and alcohol
  • Wearing contact lenses
  • Other conditions, such as thyroid disorders and diabetes

Natural Treatments

Although there's currently a lack of large-scale clinical trials exploring the use of vitamins and supplements, a growing body of research suggests that not getting enough vitamins and nutrients may be linked to dry eye syndrome:

1) Vitamin D

People with vitamin D deficiency may be prone to dry eye, according to several studies that have examined the association between vitamin D or vitamin D deficiency and dry eye syndrome. A study that included 17,542 adults in Korea, for instance, found that vitamin D levels in those with dry eye syndrome were significantly lower than in those without dry eyes.

A small study published in Medical Science Monitor in 2017 also examined the association between vitamin D levels and dry eye syndrome and found that levels were lower in people with dry eye syndrome.

Correcting a vitamin D deficiency appears to improve dry eye syndrome, according to a study in Scientific Reports. For the study, vitamin D supplementation promoted tear secretion, reduced tear instability, and reduced measures of eye inflammation in people with dry eye syndrome who hadn't responded to conventional treatment.

Further research is needed, however, as not all studies have found an association between low vitamin D and dry eye syndrome.

2) Vitamin A

A significant problem in developing nations (like Southeast Asia and Africa), vitamin A deficiency causes vision loss (particularly at night), dry eye, light sensitivity, sensation of a foreign body, corneal ulcers, and blindness. Crying without tearing is another symptom.

Vitamin A is found in green leafy vegetables, orange vegetables and fruit (carrots, sweet potatoes, mangos, cantaloupes), and eggs.

In developed countries, most vitamin A deficiency is linked to inflammatory bowel disease, short bowel syndrome, cystic fibrosis, chronic diarrhea, alcoholism, chronic liver disease, pancreatitis, fat malabsorption, restrictive diets, kidney or liver failure, eating disorders, Sjorgren's syndrome, vegetarian diets, and surgery on the upper gastrointestinal tract (the esophagus, gallbladder, and stomach), such as bariatric surgery and gallbladder removal.

Dry eye is a common side effect of a class of medications called retinoids (compounds that are related to vitamin A). Retinoids are commonly prescribed for skin conditions like acne.

3) Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Preliminary research suggests that the omega-3 fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) show promise as a natural approach to dry eye relief.

A research review published in Medical Science Monitor in 2014 analyzed randomized controlled trials published between 2007 and 2013. While there was no difference found in the ocular surface disease index (a 12-item scale for assessing dry eye symptoms), omega-3 fatty acids were associated with better tear break-up time and results on the Schirmer’s test (measuring the moisture in the lower eyelid pouch).

Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation was found to improve dry eye somewhat in people undergoing Lasik treatment, according to a small study. Supplementation improved tear secretion, but didn't affect tear film stability.

In a study published in Cornea in 2015, three months of treatment with eye drops, lid wipes, and omega-3 fatty acid supplements significantly improved dry eye syndrome and meibomian gland function (glands in the eyelids that produce the oil in tears) compared to warm, wet compresses applied daily.

Omega-3 fatty acids are found naturally in oily fish (such as salmon, sardines, trout, and mackerel).

Lifestyle and Environmental Factors

You may be able to ease dry eyes by making sure that your habits and home and/or office environment are conducive to eye health:

  1. Stay Hydrated. For some people, simply drinking enough fluids throughout the day can help reduce dry eye symptoms by keeping mucous membranes in the eyes moist. 
  2. Blink More Frequently. Blinking frequently and taking breaks when performing activities requiring prolonged periods of visual attention, such as computer work, may help.
  3. Position Your Monitor. If you work at a desktop computer, you may benefit from lowering your computer monitor so your gaze is slightly downwards. Your eyes don't have to open as wide, which may lessen the dryness.
  4. Avoid Dry or Blowing Air. Avoid dry conditions. Use a humidifier to increase the moisture of dry, indoor air. Keep air from fans, heaters, or air conditioners and smoke from blowing into your eyes. Wear sunglasses when you're outdoors. 

Seeing Your Doctor

Although dry eyes can be temporary (and affect everyone at some point or other in their lives), in some cases, the cause can be more serious and/or require medical treatment. If it's left untreated, dry eye syndrome can lead to pain, corneal damage, and loss of vision.

Here are just some symptoms that should prompt a call to your doctor:

  • Eye redness and swelling
  • Dry mouth
  • Headaches
  • Joint pain, stiffness, or swelling
  • Blurry vision, double vision, or vision loss
  • Seeing halos
  • Dryness that continues after a few days
  • Yellow skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice)
  • An eye injury or infection (like pink eye)

If you have had recent laser eye surgery, such as Lasik or photorefractive keratectomy, or PRK, you should consult your surgeon or ophthalmologist.

If you have a medical condition (like diabetes, hypothyroid, hepatitis, or kidney disease) and are experiencing dry eye, be sure to consult your doctor.

The Takeaway

If you have dry eye syndrome, make sure to consult your healthcare provider to identify the cause and to discuss your treatment options. Dry eyes are common, but the treatment depends on your symptoms and whether you have an underlying cause that needs to be addressed. Although having dry eyes may only be a minor annoyance, it should be properly treated to avoid complications.

Sources:

Bae SH, Shin YJ, Kim HK, Hyon JY, Wee WR, Park SG. Vitamin D Supplementation for Patients with Dry Eye Syndrome Refractory to Conventional Treatment. Sci Rep. 2016 Oct 4;6:33083.

Goyal P, Jain AK, Malhotra C. Oral Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplementation for Laser In Situ Keratomileusis-Associated Dry Eye. Cornea. 2017 Feb;36(2):169-175.

Korb DR, Blackie CA, Finnemore VM, Douglass T. Effect of using a combination of lid wipes, eye drops, and omega-3 supplements on meibomian gland functionality in patients with lipid deficient/evaporative dry eye. Cornea. 2015 Apr;34(4):407-12.

Liu A, Ji J. Omega-3 essential fatty acids therapy for dry eye syndrome: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled studies. Med Sci Monit. 2014 Sep 6;20:1583-9.

Meng YF, Lu J, Xing Q, Tao JJ, Xiao P. Lower Serum Vitamin D Level Was Associated with Risk of Dry Eye Syndrome. Med Sci Monit. 2017 May 10;23:2211-2216.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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