Dry eye syndrome is a complex disease
More common in persons of Asian or Hispanic descent than in persons of African or Caucasian descent, dry eye syndrome affects approximately one out of every ten persons over the age of 40.
Eyes that feel dry are not necessarily lacking in fluid. The reason for this is that
tears contain both water and fat in three layers:
- The uppermost layer of the film of tears coating the eye, approximately 3 millionths of an inch thick, consists of fats secreted by the meibomian glands. This layer of tears prevents evaporation and helps the tears cover the eyes.
- The middle layer of the film of tears coating the eye, approximately ten times thicker, is made of watery fluid released by the lacrimal (tear) glands.
- The innermost layer of the tear film, less than one millionth of an inch thick, consists of proteins released by the goblet cells. This layer of mucin "glues" the tears to the eyes.
All three layers are essential for tears to perform their function cleansing the eye and protecting it fro infection while not interfering with vision. Dry eye is usually caused not by the failure of the eye to produce the watery middle layer, but by the eye's inability to produce the fats that keep tears from drying away. In fact, some people who suffer dry syndrome complain about too much tear production.
Environmental factors that make dry eye symptoms worse
The burning, itching, pain, blurred vision, and sunlight sensitivity caused by dry eye syndrome are aggravated by dry air, smoke, chemical fumes, too much reading, or excessive computer use. Antihistamines, beta-blockers, and oral contraceptives may also make symptoms worse. Contact lenses, of course, are especially uncomfortable in dry eyes.
Medical treatments for dry eye syndrome
When dry eye syndrome is not associated with an autoimmune condition such as Sjögren's syndrome, doctors typically prescribe artificial tears to be used throughout the day, castor oil or petroleum jelly to be applied under the eyelid at bedtime to prevent inflammation, and antibiotics to prevent infection.
A nutritional intervention for mild cases of dry eye syndrome. When the underlying cause of dry eye syndrome is autoimmune disease, steroids are usually added to the treatment plan. For minor cases of dry eye syndrome, flaxseed—which is something you eat rather than something you put in your eyes—is by far the best of all the natural remedies for dry eye syndrome.
Flaxseed is used for food. It comes from same plant harvested for flax, the fiber that is woven into linen. Flax is an excellent source of the n-3 essential fatty acids that become anti-inflammatory hormones.
Flaxseed oil is a clinically proven treatment for dry eye syndrome. Brazilian scientists researched Flaxseed oil capsules as a treatment for keratoconjunctivitis sicca, which is the medical term for red, dry, inflamed eyes, with increased risk of corneal ulcers.
The Brazilian research team treated dry eye syndrome in the women in their study with three protocols. Women were randomly assigned to each protocol. One group received a 1,000 mg capsule of flaxseed oil every day. Another group received two 1,000 mg capsules of flaxseed oil every day. The third group took a placebo every day.
The study ran for 180 days. At the end of the study, the scientists concluded that either dosage of flaxseed oil reduced inflammation caused by dry eye syndrome.
Flaxseed oil for dry eye treatment
Flaxseed oil is also helpful for dry eye syndrome in children. Doctors at London's Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children gave children aged 7 months to 15 years a 500 mg daily dose of flaxseed oil. At the end of two years, the researchers found that use of flaxseed oil was associated with fewer symptoms of dry eye syndrome. The flaxseed oil also cut down the number of eye infections, especially pinkeye, and was as useful for these complaints as antibiotics.
Flaxseed oil is also beneficial for glaucoma. Researchers at the University of Melbourne in Australia found that taking supplemental flaxseed oil reduces intraocular pressure, which is the primary symptom of glaucoma. Flaxseed oil encourages the release of fluids from the eye, but does not have a general diuretic effect on the entire body.
Flaxseed is as effective as flaxseed oil. If you have trouble swallowing capsules, you can get your flaxseed oil directly from the seed, as long as you grind them before adding them to food. Flaxseeds are very tiny and can pass straight through the gastrointestinal tract if they are not ground before they are eaten. A teaspoon or two twice a day provides a healthy, nutty flavor to oatmeal, cream of wheat, smoothies, and other blended beverages.
Flaxseed oil is not the only way to use flaxseed. You can simply eat the seed. Since the seeds are very tiny, they easily can pass through the digestive tract whole, unless they are ground before use. A one or two teaspoons (5 to 10 g) of flaxseed for a nutty flavor in your breakfast cereal or smoothies.
Five more tips for beating dry eye syndrome
What are some other natural remedies for dry eye syndrome? Here are five more tips for beating dry eye syndrome:
- Before you take a trip by plane, be sure you have your liquid film tears handy—in a bottle smaller than 3 fluid ounces so you can take it on the plane with you.
- If you regularly use antihistamines, try increasing the amount of anti-allergenic quercetin you get in your diet. This plant antioxidant is found in all kinds of fresh fruits and vegetables, but especially in apples, grapefruit, and onions. Some people find that increasing the amount of fruit they eat is enough to help them stop using eye-drying antihistamines for allergy relief.
- Use a humidifier in the winter if your home is heated by a gas or electric furnace.
- Incorporate other sources of n-3 essential fatty acids into your diet. A Mediterranean vegetable called purslane, walnuts, almonds, and fish oil are among the best sources of these healthy fats.
- As often as you can, simply close your eyes and allow moisture to accumulate.
Regular use of natural remedies for dry eye symptoms will help you find lasting relief for dry eye syndrome. You will achieve freedom from dryness, itching, redness, burning, and blurred vision, and help protect your eyes from infection.