There are a number of ways to treat dry eyes. The treatment your eye doctor chooses for you will depend on the type and severity of your condition.
Mild cases of dry eye syndrome can be treated with non-prescription artificial tears. There are many brands and formulations to choose from, including preservative-free products in single-dose packaging for people with sensitive eyes. Your eye doctor will recommend one or more brands for you to try.
In some cases, your eye doctor will recommend that you supplement daytime use of artificial tears with bedtime use of a lubricating ointment. If so, you will be instructed to put about a half-inch application of the ointment inside your lower lid. Your body heat will melt the ointment, and your lids will spread it across your eye when you blink. Ointments stay on your eyes much longer than artificial tears, but they will blur your vision. For this reason, ointments should be used only at bedtime.
Medicated Eye Drops
In some cases, dry eye syndrome may be due to inflammation. There is now a prescription eye drop called Restasis (R) designed to treat inflammatory dry eye and increase your body’s ability to produce tears. Ask your eye doctor if Restasis (R) therapy might be able to increase your tear production and effectively treat your dry eye condition.
For more significant dry eye problems, your eye doctor may recommend a procedure called punctal occlusion. This procedure keeps more tears in your eyes by blocking the ducts in your lids that drain tears away from your eyes. Punctal occlusion involves inserting small plugs in the openings (puncta) of the tear drainage ducts that are located on the inner surface of each eyelid, near the nose. The plugs may be temporary (made of collagen that dissolves in a week or two) or permanent (made of silicone). If necessary, the permanent plugs can be removed later. The procedure is painless and takes only a few minutes. Punctal occlusion may eliminate or significantly reduce your need for artificial tears. Ask your eye doctor for details.
There is growing evidence that supplements containing omega-3 fatty acids may be effective in treating some cases of dry eyes. Omega-3s are essential fatty acids, meaning that because our body cannot produce them, they are a required part of a healthy diet.
Most Americans don’t consume enough omega-3’s. It’s been estimated that 83% of people in the U.S. are deficient in this essential nutrient.
Some research shows that the risk of dry eye decreases with increased dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids. Other research shows that omega-3 supplements may have a positive effect on the meibomian glands in your lids that secrete the oils that reduce tear evaporation.
Because of these and other studies, some eye doctors recommend that their patients with symptoms of dry eye increase their daily intake of omega-3 fatty acids. The two best natural sources of omega-3s are dark, oily, cold-water fish (e.g., salmon) and flaxseed. Omega-3s are also available in supplement form. Ask your eye doctor for details.
How can I reduce my risk of dry eye syndrome?
To reduce your risk of dry eyes, take the following precautions:
- Keep your body well hydrated. Drink at least eight large glasses of water every day.
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine. They have a dehydrating effect.
- Run a humidifier in your home during the winter or if you live in a dry climate.
- Moisten your contact lenses routinely with rewetting drops.
- Clean your contact lenses daily and replace them as directed.
- Wear close-fitting sunglasses when outdoors (particularly on windy days).
- Eat salmon once a week or consider taking a daily supplement of omega-3 fatty acids.
Treating dry eye syndrome involves various options, such as artificial tears, ointments, medicated eye drops, and punctal occlusion, depending on the severity. Additionally, dietary changes with omega-3 fatty acids may help. To prevent dry eyes, stay hydrated, avoid alcohol and caffeine, use a humidifier, care for contact lenses, wear sunglasses, and consider omega-3 supplements or foods. These steps can promote eye health and reduce the risk of dry eye syndrome.