Dry eye syndrome (DES), sometimes called ocular surface disease (OSD), occurs when a change in the tear film disrupts the health, comfort and visual functions of the eye’s surface.
Both genetic and environmental factors may contribute to the onset and progression of dry eye syndrome: age, gender, climate, hormonal changes, diet, medications, other health conditions and the amount of daily screen time.
Some patients require a medicated oral or topical treatment for DES.
However, in some cases, medicated treatments may be [minimized] or perhaps even eliminated altogether with certain natural approaches. Fortunately, there are several at-home and in-office natural and holistic methods that can manage your dry eye syndrome and help your eyes heal from within.
If you suffer with dry eyes, always seek advice from your dry eye doctor and do not alter any prescribed treatment plan without first receiving the appropriate medical advice.
Below, we explore the most effective chemical-free and non-surgical treatments that may provide the relief you seek from DES symptoms.
Symptoms of Dry Eye Syndrome
Symptoms of DES can range in severity and frequency, but often include:
- Eye redness
- Irritation or pain
- Watery eyes
- Blurred vision
- Light sensitivity
- Stringy mucus around the eyes
- Eye fatigue
- Itchiness or burning
These symptoms can be distracting in mild forms and debilitating in severe cases.
Natural Treatments For Dry Eye Syndrome
Heat Therapy and Gland Expression
One of the leading causes of dry eye syndrome is a dysfunction of the eye’s oil glands, called meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD). The meibomian glands secrete nourishing oils into the tears that coat the ocular surface, stabilizing the tear film by reducing evaporation of the tears
When the meibomian glands become clogged with hardened oils, they can’t produce the oils in the quality and/or quantity needed for a stable tear film. As a result, the tears don’t contain enough oil, so they evaporate too quickly. This form of DES is called evaporative dry eye syndrome. Clearing out the hardened oil from the glands will improve the glands’ function and lessen DES symptoms.
Your optometrist may recommend in-office procedures using specialized equipment to warm up the meibomian glands and express the hardened oils, allowing the oils to be easily delivered to the surface of the eye.
Warm Compresses and Eye Massage
At-home warm eye compresses are usually a front-line treatment for several eye ailments, including DES. There are several ways to make a warm eye compress, and many compresses are available for purchase. Some compresses use dry heat and some use moist heat, and your optometrist will recommend the best type for your eyes.
Applying a warm compress to your eyes daily will have a more profound effect than sporadic use. The recommended temperature for a hot compress to be effective ranges from 100 to 110 degrees Fahrenheit (38 to 42 degrees Celsius), and is dependent on the material used and the extent of the dryness. Your eye doctor will be able to provide individualized instructions. Be sure never to warm your compress above this temperature range, as this level of heat can warp the shape of the cornea and impair vision.
Once the clogged oils have melted (usually after 5-15 minutes of compress use), gently massage your eyelids in a circular motion to push the oils towards and out of the lash margin. Your eye doctor will show you exactly how to do this at your eye exam, if necessary.
Certain nutrients have been shown to affect the way the eyes produce tears. Several studies suggest that dietary Omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial for patients with dry eye syndrome and help produce healthy tears. A 2019 study published in Expert Review of Ophthalmology confirmed Omega 3’s efficacy, but noted that the exact dosage required is unclear.
To increase your Omega-3 intake, ask your eye doctor for a supplement recommendation and/or try to eat more foods like fatty fish, nuts and seeds.
A large-scale Korean study published in the Korean Journal of Ophthalmology (2019) involving more than 23,000 individuals found another link between nutrition and DES. Adults with high levels of mercury in their blood were more likely to suffer from dry eye syndrome. Dietary mercury is the most common type of environmental mercury exposure, although there are other ways to be exposed. The study concluded by suggesting that limiting mercury intake may help control DES.
Researchers have also studied the correlation between whole-body hydration and ocular hydration. Findings in a study published in Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science (2012) indicate that individuals with DES have higher blood osmolarity (less diluted blood) than those without DES. Keeping your body adequately hydrated will help give your eyes the necessary fluids for healthy tear production.
Eyelid hygiene plays a key role in managing DES by controlling the bacterial load on the eyelids and lashes. Dirt, debris and microorganisms that collect around the eyes contribute to the onset and severity of MGD and blepharitis, an inflammation of the eyelids.
Your eye doctor may recommend an in-office eyelid scrubbing treatment, or show you how to thoroughly clean your eyelids at home. It may be helpful to apply a warm compress before cleaning the eyelids to loosen any debris.
Dry air in arid climates, air conditioning and heating can all cause or contribute to dry eye syndrome. So can air pollution. Try making these adjustments in your environment and see if you notice any improvement in DES symptoms:
- Always wear protective sunglasses whenever outdoors to block out winds that can cause premature tear evaporation and carry debris.
- Point fans, air conditioners and hair blow dryers away from your face, so as not to [destabilize] the tear film.
- Use a humidifier in your home or office to replenish moisture in the air.
How Your Eye Care Team Can Help
At Manhattan Vision Associates, our goal is to help your eyes heal naturally from the underlying cause of your dry eye syndrome. By thoroughly assessing your ocular health and reviewing your medical history, we’ll choose a treatment plan that is tailor-made to suit your needs.
Our holistic approach to dry eye syndrome will help restore your eye health and may eliminate or reduce the need for regular medications that manage symptoms.
It’s important to keep in mind that many of the above remedies are complimentary in their therapeutic benefits, and can be done in conjunction with one another.
Consult with your dry eye optometrist before trying the above methods, as it’s important to first identify what’s causing your DES.
To schedule a dry eye consultation and begin your path to holistic eye healing, contact Manhattan Vision Associates in New York City today.
Manhattan Vision Associates serves patients from Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx, New York and surrounding communities.