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If you are experiencing scratchy eyelids and other symptoms of dry eyes, these five nontoxic interventions help relieve without the added chemicals
Most people experience occasional dry eyes, often due to airplane travel, yard work, seasonal allergies or eye strain. But if you find that your eyes are scratchy, red or irritated frequently without cause, you may be experiencing dry eye syndrome.
Dry eye syndrome is a common condition that occurs when your eyes don't produce adequate tears to properly lubricate your eyes.[i] Dry eye syndrome results when tear production becomes insufficient or when the quality of tears becomes unstable, causing inflammation that can damage the surface of the eye.[ii]
Tear production destabilizes when healthy tear film, composed of fatty oils, water and mucous, becomes compromised. Reasons for tear film disruption include hormonal changes, autoimmune disorders, inflamed eyelid glands, allergic eye disease and decreased water production, a condition called keratoconjunctivitis sicca.[iii] Certain medications, nutrient deficiencies and irritation from contact lenses or laser eye surgery can also play a role in decreased or degraded tears.[iv]
Dry Eye Syndrome: Are You at Risk?
Although anyone may develop dry eye syndrome, there are a few factors that make you more susceptible, including:
Aged 50+ years
Undergoing hormonal changes
Deficient in vitamin A or omega-3 fats
Wears contact lenses
Has had refractive eye surgery[v]
It's important to treat dry eye syndrome to avoid causing permanent damage to your eyes, which can include corneal ulcers and permanent vision loss.
Five Natural Remedies for Dry Eyes
While artificial tears have come a long way in recent years, some brands use chemical preservatives that can further inflame irritated eyes. Here are five nontoxic options for relieving dry eye syndrome, naturally.
1. Vitamin D
Calciferol, commonly known as vitamin D, is a fat-soluble vitamin found in certain foods and produced endogenously by your body when exposure to the sun's rays triggers vitamin D synthesis.
More than 90% of people in the U.S. consume significantly less than the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of vitamin D from food each day,[vi] and it's difficult to get adequate amounts of vitamin D from dietary sources alone, since your body is designed to produce it from sun exposure. However, total vitamin D intake climbs to around three times higher with strategic supplement use.
A cross-sectional study of adults who participated in a Korean National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey gathered information on risk factors for dry eye syndrome (DES), including sunlight exposure, urban residence and indoor occupation. Blood serum levels of vitamin D and zinc were also measured.
Analysis of the data found that low vitamin D levels and inadequate sunlight exposure are associated with DES in Korean adults.[vii] Conversely, a 2016 study found that vitamin D supplementation improved the symptoms of DES after just two weeks of intervention.[viii]
If you've never tried acupuncture, you might wonder how this alternative medical therapy fits into a regimen that supports eye health. A modality within the Traditional Chinese Medicine system, acupuncture is the practice of inserting thin, metallic needles into special points on your body called meridians that stimulate energy flow, or Qi, throughout the body.
Acupuncture has been clinically shown to support DES symptoms and improve tear volume in several studies. An observational study in South Korea found that patients with dry eye disease had significantly lower symptom scores on the ocular surface disease index (OSDI) and significantly higher volume of tears after being treated three times per week with acupuncture for a period of one month.[ix]
Another South Korean study evaluated the effects of acupuncture against the western standard treatment of artificial tears. A total of 150 patients with moderate-to-severe dry eye were randomly allocated into groups receiving either four weeks of acupuncture therapy or artificial tears to help relieve symptoms.
Immediately after the study concluded, no statistically significant differences were observed between the two groups. However, at eight weeks post-study, OSDI symptom scores were significantly lower and measures for discomfort were significantly improved in the acupuncture group compared to the artificial tears group.[x]
3. Omega-3 Fats
The importance of healthy fats in the diet cannot be overstated, especially when it comes to preventing and treating dry eye syndrome. Omega-3 fatty acids are one of two major classes of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), along with omega-6s. Found naturally in foods like fish, nuts and seeds, omega-3s play an important role in creating healthy tears.
Low levels of omega-3s are a known risk factor for DES, prompting research into whether omega-3 supplementation may be an effective natural therapy for symptoms of dry eye disease. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that a higher dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids is associated with a decreased incidence of DES in women over 45 years of age.[xii]
A topical formulation of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids (alpha-linolenic acid combined with linoleic acid) led to a significant decrease in dry eye symptoms and inflammatory changes at both the cellular and molecular level in animal studies, indicating that adding essential fatty acids to eye drops may be a novel therapy for DES.[xiii]
4. Sea Buckthorn
Sea buckthorns are shrubs that produce yellow-orange berries and are native to the colder climates of northern Europe, Mongolia, Ukraine and Russia. Used for centuries as food and medicine, sea buckthorn supplements take the form of frozen or powdered berries, considered a superfood, or oil, extracted from the fruit and seeds of the plant.
Rumored to give the skin and hair a beautiful appearance, sea buckthorn may also support healthy vision. In a 2018 study, sea buckthorn (SB) oil was fashioned into a spray emulsion for use on dry eyes.
In adults diagnosed with ocular disease symptoms ranging from moderate to severe, SB spray was randomized against a primary commercial spray for nine days, and then against a control group for 1.5 months. Dry eye tests were carried out at baseline and during the study.
Sea buckthorn spray was well tolerated throughout the study period. Symptoms assessed by the OSDI showed a significant decrease and the scores for dryness at the end of the study were lower for SB spray users compared to the commercial spray and untreated patients. Researchers determined that SB spray safely relieves the symptoms of dry eye disease.[xiv]
Have you ever teared up while eating a spicy curry dish? The sinus-clearing attributes of turmeric spice may have therapeutic value to sufferers of dry eye disease and are a key link to curcumin's famed anti-inflammatory properties.
Curcumin's anti-inflammatory properties were examined in an in-vitro study on cultured human corneal epithelial cells. Corneal cells were exposed to sodium chloride, a common ingredient in commercial eye drops that is known to increase production of proinflammatory cytokines. Pretreatment of the cells with curcumin, an active compound in turmeric, completely abolished production of inflammatory markers and increased the quality of tears.[xvi]
Take a Balanced Approach to Soothe Dry Eyes
It's important to take basic precautions against eye strain and dry eye syndrome. The following commonsense interventions can go a long way toward maintaining healthy eyes:
- When working on a computer, take frequent breaks away from the monitor.
- When working indoors, get outside periodically to absorb natural light through your eyes.
- Limit your use of blue-light emitting screens.
- Avoid smoke-filled rooms or dry, windy conditions.
- Keep a humidifier on during dryer months.
[i] Mayo Clinic, Diseases & Conditions, Dry Eyes, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dry-eyes/symptoms-causes/syc-20371863
[ii] Mayo Clinic, Diseases & Conditions, Dry Eyes, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dry-eyes/symptoms-causes/syc-20371863
[iii] Mayo Clinic, Diseases & Conditions, Dry Eyes, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dry-eyes/symptoms-causes/syc-20371863
[iv] Mayo Clinic, Diseases & Conditions, Dry Eyes, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dry-eyes/symptoms-causes/syc-20371863
[v] Mayo Clinic, Diseases & Conditions, Dry Eyes, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dry-eyes/symptoms-causes/syc-20371863
[vi] NIH.gov, Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet, Vitamin D – Health Professional, https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional/
[vii] Sam Young Yoon, Seok Hyun Bae, Young Joo Shin, Shin Goo Park, Sang-Hee Hwang, Joon Young Hyon, Won Ryang Wee. Low Serum 25-Hydroxyvitamin D Levels Are Associated with Dry Eye Syndrome. PLoS One. 2016 ;11(1):e0147847. Epub 2016 Jan 25. PMID: 26807908
[viii] 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. doi: 10.1038/srep33083. PMID: 27698364; PMCID: PMC5048427.
[ix] Ju-Hyun Jeon, Mi-Suk Shin, Myeong Soo Lee, So-Young Jeong, Kyung Won Kang, Young-Il Kim, Sun-Mi Choi. Acupuncture reduces symptoms of dry eye syndrome: a preliminary observational study. J Altern Complement Med. 2010 Dec;16(12):1291-4. PMID: 21138389
[x] Tae-Hun Kim, Jung Won Kang, Kun Hyung Kim, Kyung-Won Kang, Mi-Suk Shin, So-Young Jung, Ae-Ran Kim, Hee-Jung Jung, Jin-Bong Choi, Kwon Eui Hong, Seung-Deok Lee, Sun-Mi Choi. Acupuncture for the treatment of dry eye: a multicenter randomised controlled trial with active comparison intervention (artificial teardrops). PLoS One. 2012 ;7(5):e36638. Epub 2012 May 17. PMID: 22615787
[xi] Wei-Ping Gao, Min Liu, Yi-Biao Zhang. [Observation on therapeutic effect of dry eye syndrome treated with acupuncture on the acupoints around the eyes]. Zhongguo Zhen Jiu. 2010 Jun;30(6):478-80. PMID: 20578386
[xii] Biljana Miljanović, Komal A Trivedi, M Reza Dana, Jeffery P Gilbard, Julie E Buring, Debra A Schaumberg. Relation between dietary n-3 and n-6 fatty acids and clinically diagnosed dry eye syndrome in women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005 Oct;82(4):887-93. PMID: 16210721
[xiii] Saadia Rashid, Yiping Jin, Tatiana Ecoiffier, Stefano Barabino, Debra A Schaumberg, M Reza Dana. Topical omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids for treatment of dry eye. Arch Ophthalmol. 2008 Feb;126(2):219-25. PMID: 18268213
[xiv] Petra Larmo, Riikka Järvinen, Jarmo Laihia, Eliisa Löyttyniemi, Laura Maavirta, Baoru Yang, Heikki Kallio, Minna Sandberg-Lall. Effects of a sea buckthorn oil spray emulsion on dry eye. Cont Lens Anterior Eye. 2018 Nov 26. Epub 2018 Nov 26. PMID: 30497904
[xv] Petra S Larmo, Riikka L Järvinen, Niko L Setälä, Baoru Yang, Matti H Viitanen, Janne R K Engblom, Raija L Tahvonen, Heikki P Kallio. Oral sea buckthorn oil attenuates tear film osmolarity and symptoms in individuals with dry eye. J Nutr. 2010 Aug;140(8):1462-8. Epub 2010 Jun 16. PMID: 20554904
[xvi] Min Chen, Dan-Ning Hu, Zan Pan, Cheng-Wei Lu, Chun-Yan Xue, Ivar Aass. Curcumin protects against hyperosmoticity-induced IL-1beta elevation in human corneal epithelial cell via MAPK pathways. Exp Eye Res. 2010 Mar;90(3):437-43. Epub 2009 Dec 23. PMID: 20026325
[xvii] Pia Allegri, Antonio Mastromarino, Piergiorgio Neri. Management of chronic anterior uveitis relapses: efficacy of oral phospholipidic curcumin treatment. Long-term follow-up. Clin Ophthalmol. 2010;4:1201-6. Epub 2010 Oct 21. PMID: 21060672