According to Voltaire, tears may be “the silent language of grief,” but they’re also your eyes’ natural, protective lubricant. Unfortunately, millions of people have a condition called dry eye syndrome (also known simply as dry eyes) that is marked by problems with tear production. The good news is there are several natural treatments for dry eyes.
What Is Dry Eye Syndrome?
Dry eye syndrome or “ocular surface disease,” which is the medical name for this disorder, refers to a decline in the quality or quantity of tears bathing the eye. This condition is increasingly common with advancing age—there are estimates that 75 percent of people over the age of 65 will experience dry eyes. Women are also more susceptible to dry eye syndrome. Dry air, long hours in front of a computer, and certain medications, including antihistamines and decongestants are other factors that can contribute to dry eye syndrome.
Treating Dry Eyes Is Important
Adequate production of healthy tears is essential. Tears contain lipids (fats) that reduce evaporation and keep your eyes bathed in moisture, maintain the proper salinity and acidity of the eye area, and provide antibodies and other immune-enhancing agents to defend against infection.
If your eyes often feel itchy, gritty, burning, or painful, you may have dry eye syndrome. Along with eye irritation, sensitivity to light is also common, especially in milder cases. In severe cases, scarring or ulceration of the cornea can occur, which has the potential to lead to vision loss. Therefore, treating dry eyes is important.
Dry eye syndrome is usually treated with lubricating eye drops (artificial tears). While this may provide relief, it doesn't correct or prevent the underlying condition. The following natural treatments for dry eyes can help prevent and treat dry eye syndrome.
Omega-3s and Antioxidants
Two of the processes at work in dry eye syndrome are inflammation and free radical damage. Recognizing that inflammation of the tear-producing glands and the eye itself play a significant role in dry eye syndrome, researchers examined the relationship between dry eyes and intake of omega-3 fatty acids, which have potent anti-inflammatory effects. Looking at data on more than 32,000 women involved in the Women’s Health Study, they found that women with a higher intake of omega-3s had a much lower risk of dry eye syndrome than those with reduced intakes.
Based on these findings, one of the best preventive measures and natural treatments for dry eyes is ensuring an adequate intake of omega-3s. This is best achieved by making a point to eat wild salmon and other fatty fish on a regular basis, and taking a quality omega-3 supplement.
To maintain healthy tear-producing glands, you also need a good supply of antioxidants. They are the best free radical fighters available (as mentioned earlier, free radical damage is the other primary factor at work in dry eyes). In fact, you may already know that some of most widely recognized antioxidants—vitamins A, C, and E—play a crucial role in vision health. Similarly, carotenoids—particularly lutein, zeaxanthin, and astaxanthin—are other powerful free radical scavengers.
You can boost your levels of antioxidants and carotenoids by eating brightly colored fruits and vegetables and other foods rich in these powerful nutrients. But if you’re already experiencing dry eyes, I also recommend taking supplements that contain them.
Unblock Your Meibomian Glands
One of the most common causes of chronic dry eye syndrome is dysfunction of the meibomian glands, which are located along the eyelids. They produce oils that are part of normal tear composition. When these glands are blocked, inflamed, or otherwise compromised, tears evaporate rapidly and eyes feel dry and gritty. Physically clearing and unblocking these glands improves tear quality and often relieves dry eyes.
To unblock your meibomian glands, place warm compresses over your eyes for about 10 minutes once or twice a day. Very gently massage your closed eyes, concentrating on the upper and lower lids for a minute or so. Then carefully clean your eyelids with baby shampoo or a commercial eyelid cleanser.
Microwavable eye masks and eyelid scrubs are sold in drugstores, and your eye doctor can give you further instructions if needed. Office-based procedures are also available and recommended for patients with serious dry eye symptoms or eye disease.
Other Natural Treatments for Dry Eyes
Another therapy for treating dry eyes you may want to consider is acupuncture. Patients suffering from dry eye syndrome who received three acupuncture treatments per week for a month experienced marked improvements in symptoms and increased tear secretion.
I want to close by saying that if you would like to use eye drops to alleviate the discomfort of dry eyes, over-the-counter artificial tears, especially those in single-use vials, are just fine for occasional use. Just keep in mind that these eye drops should be used in combination with the other natural treatments for dry eyes that I’ve shared.