About 33 million Americans in all age groups experience varying degrees of dry eye symptoms. The symptoms may include dryness, grittiness, irritation, burning, and even the seeming contradiction of excessive watering or tearing. What are the risk factors for dry eye? Is there a treatment or cure? How can you prevent dry eye? Does dry eye reflect overall health?
Dry Eye Symptoms
The symptoms of dry eye are more noticeable to the patient than to casual observers or family members. The person may frequently rub the eyes or complain of burning, a scratchy feeling, or stinging in the eyes. Stringy mucus may form around or in the eyes. The eyes may be red. Vision could become blurred, or the eyes could become fatigued easily. Also, driving at night or wearing contact lenses may become difficult.
Ironically, the eyes may overreact and produce too many tears due to irritation from dry eye. The condition usually affects both eyes.
Many people with dry eye symptoms start using over-the-counter eye drops. However, these drops can be counter-productive, particularly if they just are used to “get the red out” and/or contain preservatives which can make symptoms worsen.
Consult an eye doctor, who will perform a full eye exam. The eye doctor will use painless tools to observe the tear film. The tear film consists of the mucous membrane, the watery layer made by tear glands, and an oily layer made by the meibomian glands, and a layer of salty water. Blinking restores the tear film. Staring too long at a computer screen disrupts the tear film, and can cause dry eyes. Research has shown that people blink less when they use a computer. Also, incomplete blinking contributes to dry eye.
Causes of Dry Eye
Dry eyes are a condition of the entire body, not just the eyes. Women approaching or in menopause commonly suffer from dry eyes due to hormonal changes, which also contribute to internal drying. The tiny tear ducts and delicate tear film require many bodily systems to be working correctly. Therefore, those who suffer from dry eye should consider making changes to their diet and introducing nutritional supplements.
One of the most important aspects for people who suffer from dry eyes is avoiding sugar and artificial sweeteners. Sugar increases the risk of dry eyes.
This condition has many potential causes and risk factors:
- A malfunctioning of the oily secretions of the lacrimal gland, or blocked ducts on the lid margin. These problems make the tear film evaporate too quickly.
- Excessive screen time. Computer workers have low amounts of mucin 5AC, an important component of the mucus layer.
- Changes in the tear film. Any disruption of the tear film can lead to dry eye. The tear film needs to have a specific composition and be distributed properly. For example, an eyelid problem can impact tear film distribution.
- Hormone fluctuations, especially in women. Dry eye is common in women who are going through major hormonal changes (pregnancy, birth control pill users, peri-menopause, menopause, and post-menopause).
- Age. Seniors naturally produce about 40% less lubrication than younger people. Free radical damage over time may be partly to blame.
- Pollution. Smoking, windy conditions, air conditioning, and allergies can contribute to dry eye.
- Contact lenses worn long-term can reduce corneal sensitivity, resulting in dry or watery eyes.
- Medications can cause dry eye as a side effect; for example, decongestants, diuretics, antihistamines, and codeine.
- Eye surgery.
- Nerve damage from diabetes. About half of diabetes patients have dry eyes.
- Arthritis or other auto-immune conditions. Sjogren’s Syndrome in particular.
Whole Body Conditions Associated with Dry Eye
Dry eye often reflects the health of the entire body. A condition that affects mucous membranes may result in dry eyes, mouth, lips, nasal passages, etc.
Auto-immune Disorders: Sjogren’s Syndrome, Lupus Erythematosus, Graves’ Disease (hyperthyroidism) and rheumatoid arthritis trick the immune system into attacking secretion and tear production cells. Corneal issues can result in dry eyes or overproduction of tears such as corneal erosion or trauma, resulting in a scratch to the cornea. Dry spots on the eye may result from damaged eye cells.
Chronic, Systemic Inflammation: Current research points to chronic, systemic inflammation as a contributor to many diseases. Heart disease, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, obesity, type 2 diabetes, asthma, and even neurodegenerative disease are linked to chronic inflammation. Dry eye is a symptom of chronic inflammation. C reactive protein in the blood is a marker for inflammation. Inflammation is part of the normal healing process, but chronic inflammation is unhealthy.
Sometimes the doctor discovers hat your case of dry eye is caused by an underlying disease, such as an auto-immune disorder. If this happens, follow the doctor’s instructions to address the disease. Additionally, ask about eye drops or other ways to make your eyes more comfortable.
If the condition is related to hormonal changes, such as pregnancy, the condition may soon pass. Use preservative-free artificial tears for comfort. You can add a high-quality fish oil and vitamin A supplement as well. Women in any stage of menopause should ask their OGBYN or eye doctor about therapies to lessen drying of the mucous membranes. Also consider homeopathic Women’s Tear Stimulation Pellets.
Review all your medications. Discuss dry eye as a possible side effect with the prescribing physician.
If the root cause of dry eye is not easy to address, consider prescription medicated eye drops. For example, RESTASIS® and Xiidra can be effective but can also be costly and take time to start working.
Natural Approaches for Comfort
If you have chronic dry eye, natural approaches can make you more comfortable.
- Buy over-the-counter, preservative-free artificial tears for comfort. They may come in single-dose packaging. Avoid eye drops that contain preservatives, as they may cause irritation. Also, avoid medicated eye drops unless prescribed or recommended by your eye doctor.
- Your eye doctor may offer thorough lid margin (edge) cleaning to unblock ducts temporarily.
- The eye doctor may try inserting a tiny plug into a drainage duct in the eye. Similar to plugging a bathtub, the procedure might increase eye moisture.
- Use a lid wipe to remove debris and excess oils from the lid and lid margins. For example, OCuSOFT Lid Scrub or Blephadex Eyelid Wipes or Lidhygenix can help when used regularly.
- Eye exercises specifically helpful for dry eye include palming, near and far, eye massage on acupressure points, and the “hot dog” exercise.
- Natural Eye Care offers packages to help reduce dry eye symptoms, lubricate the eyes naturally, reduce inflammation, and moisten the body. For example, Dry Eye Package 2 includes preservative-free eyedrops, Dr. Grossman’s Maxi Tears Formula gelcaps, VisionTone wildcrafted herbal formula based on Chinese medicine, and Dr. Grossman’s Omega-7 Chronic Dry Eye and Anti-Inflammatory Formula. These formulas also have the potential for helping the body produce more tears naturally.
Natural Approaches to Inflammation Management
Since dry eye is often a symptom of inflammation, reducing chronic inflammation can help. The unhealthy chronic inflammatory response may be linked to the gut microbiome. Gut bacteria balance is strongly affected by what you eat.
Refined sugar, white bread, pastries, junk food, fried foods, and processed meats may increase inflammation.
Instead, eat a diet rich in dark leafy green vegetables, brightly colored produce, lean protein, nuts, beans, lentils, fatty fish (salmon, sardines, mackerel), olive oil, and whole grains. The Mediterranean Diet foots this bill. Avoid crash diets and fad diets.
You may not be able to get therapeutic amounts of omega-3 fatty acids from your diet. Supplement with a high-quality, no-mercury fish oil such as Carlson’s fish oil, Nordic Natural or Prescribed Choice Krill Oil. Dr. Grossman’s MaxiTears Formula has both the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids as part of a formulation for dry eyes.
A newly discovered essential fatty acid is called Omega-7, or palmitoleic acid. Omega-7 appears lower C-reactive protein. A study found that adults with high levels of C-reactive protein who took 210 mg a day of omega-7 had a 73% decrease of the blood marker for inflammation.1 Dr. Grossman offers a quality Omega-7 Chronic Dry Eye and Anti-Inflammatory Formula.
Taking a high-quality probiotic might help, but it should be combined with a healthy diet.
Gritty, sore, itchy eyes need to be examined by an eye doctor. If you are diagnosed with dry eye syndrome, work with your doctor to narrow down the cause. Consider conventional and natural approaches to reducing symptoms. Try targeted nutrients for dry eye. Also, consider reducing any chronic inflammation by improving your diet and taking supplements. Dry eye reflects the whole body’s health. Therefore, address any underlying conditions and improve your nutrition. If your dry eye is chalked up to the natural aging process, watch your diet, and get regular exercise. Seniors have less efficient digestion and thus may need additional supplementation.
For further information, please visit Dr. Grossman’s page on Dry Eye treatment and prevention.
- Green JA. Effect of two levels of Provinal™ (purified Palmitoleic Acid; C16:1n7; Omega 7) on serum lipid and C-reactive protein(CRP) profiles in humans. Tersus Pharmaceuticals, LLC: 2012. ↩