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Dry Eyes

Our eyes need tears to stay healthy and comfortable. Every time we blink, a film of tears coats the surface of the eye, which helps to keep it clean and clear. Dry eye occurs when your eyes don't make enough tears to stay moist, or the tears that you make aren't working correctly. Dry eye is a common condition, affecting millions every year. If you have severely dry eyes, it is important to get treatment — since letting it go could cause damage to the cornea (the clear outer layer in the front of the eye).

Our evidence-based analysis on dry eyes features 5 unique references to scientific papers.

Research analysis led by and reviewed by the Examine team.
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Summary of Dry Eyes

What is a dry eye?

Under normal conditions, our eyes are constantly making tears to keep the surface of the eye moist. Although tears are typically considered as a simple, homogeneous substance, we have a complex tear film that keeps our eyes healthy and comfortable, which consists of three distinct layers. Every time we blink, the tear film coats the surface of the eye, which helps to keep them clean and clear. If insufficient amounts of the tear film or its composition is off, dry eyes can occur.[1]

What are the main signs and symptoms of dry eye?

Symptoms of dry eyes include redness or irritation, which is especially evident in the wind, stinging or burning sensation in the eyes, blurred vision, can be especially noticeable when reading, a scratchy or gritty feeling, that feels like sand in the eye, presence of strings of mucus in and around the eyes, pain and discomfort while wearing contact lenses, increased amounts of tears in the eye.

How is dye eye diagnosed?

Dry eye is diagnosed by an ophthalmologist, who will start with an eye exam to look at the eyelids and surface of the eye. Ophthalmologists may perform different tests to diagnose dry eyes including the following:

  • Examine amount of tears that your eyes make

  • Determine how long it takes tears to dry up

  • Examine eyelid structure

What are some of the main medical treatments for dry eye?

Artificial tears are one treatment for dry eyes, which are available without a prescription and can be administered multiple times per day.Prescription eye drop medications may also be recommended to help the eyes make more of their own tears. Newer treatments are also available (or are being developed) that specifically target the underlying causes of dry eyes.[2] Blocking tear ducts is another treatment that may be recommended by an ophthalmologist. Since tear ducts are part of the tear drainage system, blocking tear ducts may help to keep more tears in the eye. Tear ducts are blocked with small silicone or gel plugs (punctal plugs) that are inserted into tear ducts.

Have any supplements been studied for dry eye?

Pycnogenol, a patented formulation of pine bark extract, has shown promise for alleviating dry eyes in patients with Sjogren’s disease, a common autoimmune condition in women that causes dry eyes and dry mouth. The mechanism of action isn’t clear but may be due to the anti-inflammatory effects of pycnogenol.

Fish oil and omega 3 fatty acids have also shown some promise for providing relief to dry eyes with one study showing a 17% lower risk of dry eye compared to a placebo.[3] As with pycnogenol, the mechanism of action is not well understood, but likely involves the anti-inflammatory activity of omega-3 fats.

What's the connection between diet and dry eye?

Good nutrition helps to keep the eye healthy overall and may reduce the risk of eye diseases such as dry eye. Overall, getting plenty of leafy green vegetables along with yellow, orange, and other colorful fruits and vegetables will help to keep the eyes healthy.[4]

Dietary patterns that are good for the heart may also be good for the eyes, since the eyes rely on tiny arteries to deliver oxygen and nutrients. As with the heart, keeping blood vessels healthy will help to keep the eyes healthy.

Consuming increased amounts of foods rich in omega-3 fats may also reduce the risk of eye disease later in life.[5]

Are there any other treatments for dry eye?

The most common non-medical treatments for dry eye, such as artificial tears and lubricating eye drops are available over the counter, without a prescription. Although this is a good place to start if you have infrequent issues with dry eyes, it is important to see a doctor if symptoms persist or become worse.

What causes dry eye?

Hormonal changes during aging can be a cause of dry eye. Although both men and women can get dry eye, it tends to be more common in women, especially after menopause. There are many other causes of dry eye, which including autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren's syndrome, and lupus, thyroid disease, smoke exposure, wind exposure, or being in a dry climate, prolonged activities that reduce blinking such as working at a computer screen for long periods of time, or reading, wearing contact lenses for an extended period of time, refractive eye surgery such as LASIK.

Additionally, medications that can cause dry eyes include diuretics, beta-blockers, antihistamines, sleeping pills, medications for anxiety or depression, and heartburn medications.[2]

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The Human Effect Matrix looks at human studies to tell you what supplements affect Dry Eyes.

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Grade Level of Evidence
Robust research conducted with repeated double-blind clinical trials
Multiple studies where at least two are double-blind and placebo controlled
Single double-blind study or multiple cohort studies
Uncontrolled or observational studies only
Level of Evidence
? The amount of high quality evidence. The more evidence, the more we can trust the results.
Supplement Magnitude of effect
? The direction and size of the supplement's impact on each outcome. Some supplements can have an increasing effect, others have a decreasing effect, and others have no effect.
Consistency of research results
? Scientific research does not always agree. HIGH or VERY HIGH means that most of the scientific research agrees.
Notes
grade-c Strong Very High See 2 studies
The benefits of trehalose containing eye drops appears to be greater than not only placebo (saline) eye drops, but also eye drops containing either hyaluronan (Hyalein) or hydroxyethylcellulose (Mytear) which are proven commercial products for dry eyes.
grade-c Minor - See study
The complaint of 'dry eyes' appears to be slightly reduced in postmenopausal women given 80mg of the isoflavones as a supplement.
grade-c Minor - See study
2g of the oil daily is able to reduce symptoms of dry eyes, particularly reddening and the actual perceived dryness

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Click here to see all 5 references.