Dry eyes: How to get relief (medications, drops and more)

woman applying eye drops

There are few things in life that are more important than our vision. When dry eyes begin to affect how you see, it becomes crucial to find safe and effective relief. Below we’ve listed some popular questions regarding the treatment of dry eyes to help you find a solution to the common condition. 

What are the best dry eye supplements?

The best nutritional supplements to reduce dry eye symptoms contain omega-3 fatty acids. These "omega-3s" — especially molecules described as long-chain EPA and DHA — are anti-inflammatory in nature.

It appears that by reducing inflammation — particularly inflammation of the tear glands and the surface of the eye — omega-3 supplements can reduce or prevent dry eye problems in many individuals.

In a major study of 40,000 female health professionals, increases in dietary omega-3 fatty acids resulted in a 30 percent reduction in the risk of dry eye symptoms for each 1000 mg of omega-3s consumed daily.

In another study, 478 computer users with dry eyes were given daily nutritional supplements for a period of three months. The subjects were given either 1) two omega-3 capsules, each containing 180 mg EPA and 120 mg DHA, or 2) two placebo capsules containing olive oil. At the end of the 3-month period, 70 percent of participants who were given the omega-3 supplements reported being free of dry eyes symptoms, compared with only 15 percent among those who were given the placebo pills.

Though these studies and other research suggests omega-3 fatty acid supplements can effectively reduce dry eye symptoms, the best approach is to visit an eye doctor who specializes in dry eyes to determine which dry eye treatment regimen will likely be the most effective for your particular condition.

What are the best foods for dry eyes?

The best foods for dry eyes are those that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Superior sources of omega-3 fatty acids ("omega-3s") for dry eyes are these fresh fish and seafood:

  • Salmon

  • Halibut

  • Sardines

  • Herring

  • Oysters

  • Tuna

For a vegetarian alternative, the following fresh vegetables, grains and nuts also contain omega-3 fatty acids:

  • Kale

  • Spinach

  • Brussels sprouts

  • Broccoli

  • Cauliflower

  • Flaxseed (and flaxseed oil)

  • Peanut butter

  • Oatmeal

  • Walnuts

Vegetarian sources of omega-3 fatty acids, however, generally don't contain comparable amounts of the EPA and DHA types of omega-3s that have been shown effective in reducing dry eye symptoms as the seafood sources noted above.

The best way to modify your diet to help prevent dry eyes or relieve dry eye symptoms is to replace high-sugar and processed foods you currently may be eating (which tend to increase inflammation that contributes to dry eyes) with many of the eye-healthy foods listed above.

What medications make dry eyes worse?

If you already have dry eyes, being prescribed the following categories of prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications may cause or worsen dry eye symptoms:

  • Antihistamines and decongestants

  • Hypertension medications

  • Hormone treatments

  • Pain relievers

  • Antidepressants

  • Acne medications

  • Gastrointestinal (GI) medications

  • Chemotherapy medicines

  • Antipsychotic medications

If you feel your dry eye symptoms have worsened since starting a particular medicine, discuss this with the doctor who prescribed the medication to see if an equally effective alternative is available.

What are the best eye drops for dry eyes?

There are three main components to a healthy tear film: water, oil and mucus. The best eye drops for your particular dry eye condition depends on which of these layers (or combination of layers) is lacking.

Sure, one option is to select several different brands of eye drops and try each one to see which one is most soothing. But this is inefficient (and can be expensive).

The best way to determine which are the best eye drops for your dry eyes is to visit your eye doctor for a complete eye exam, including a dry eye evaluation. Based on close examination of the surface of your eyes and special testing, your eye doctor will be able to give you a good recommendation of which eye drops will provide the dry eye relief you are seeking.

When is the best time to use artificial tears for dry eyes?

It seems logical that the best time to use artificial tears for dry eye is when you're feeling dry eye discomfort.

While this is a good idea, the best way to reduce your dry eye symptoms with artificial tears and other eye drops (prescription or over-the-counter products) is to use the specific products your doctor recommends as often as he or she recommends you use them.

You should continue using artificial tears or other dry eye treatments on the prescribed schedule even if your eyes are feeling fine and your vision is good — this usually will decrease the likelihood of future episodes of dry eye symptoms.

But don't be too surprised if using artificial tears alone does not eliminate dry eye problems. A recent review of 43 clinical studies that evaluated the effectiveness of non-prescription (over-the-counter, or OTC) in relieving dry eye symptoms revealed that OTC artificial tears sometimes are effective and sometimes aren't, and that there's no certainty as to which OTC drops work best for dry eye syndrome.

The best approach if you are experiencing dry eye symptoms is to visit your eye doctor for a dry eye evaluation to determine the cause of your symptoms. Consider which treatments or combination of treatments are most likely to be of benefit for your specific type and severity of dry eye syndrome.

RELATED READING: Dry eye syndrome: 12 ways to get relief

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