Many of my over 40 patients complain of dry, burning, itching eyes and ask me what they can do about them. Well, you can do a lot, I tell them. You see, dry eyes are a common occurrence in those of us past age 40, especially women in menopause where hormonal changes can cause dryness throughout the body.
However, dry eyes can bother men as well. The good news is that there is something you can do about dry eyes that can improve the condition dramatically. First, let me explain to you a little about what dry eye syndrome is and what causes it.
What Is Dry Eye Syndrome?
Several things can cause dry eyes including:
- Certain medications like antihistamines, Parkinson drugs, antidepressants, birth control pills.
- Living in a dry, windy area.
- Living, or working, in an environment with air conditioning or a dry heating system.
- Long hours in front of a computer screen which causes you to not blink enough.
- Specific illnesses like Sjogren syndrome, lupus, or rheumatoid arthritis.
- Wearing contact lenses.
- Structural problems with the eyelids that prevents them from closing all the way.
- Allergies to dust, mold, and pollen can cause the eyes to itch, become red and dry.
- Eye drops with preservatives or methylcellulose can dry the eye out.
- Vitamin A deficiency
Now that you know what may be causing your dry eyes, let’s talk about what relieves them and helps prevent dryness to begin with.
Treat Dry Eye Syndrome Naturally
As you likely know by now, I prefer a natural, non-prescription based approach to treating conditions first, if possible. Luckily, dry eyes respond very well to a few natural-based treatments such as the following:
- Omega-3 fatty acids – these are fats found in fish, particularly salmon, cod liver oil, sardines, and herring. 1-2 servings a week is good, along with taking a 1,000 mg capsule of Omega-3 per day to help alleviate dryness of eyes and skin.
- Artificial Tears – these contain hyaluronic acid, the same chemical that keeps your skin healthy and lubricated which decreases with age. There are several natural tear lubricants available at drug and health food stores. They can help your eyes feel better immediately. The only drawback to these is that they cannot be used while contact lenses are in the eye. They must be removed first and then wait 15 minutes to replace them. Or, see the next item.
- Rewetting Solution – this is specifically for contact lens wearers. They work very well if your dry eyes are mainly from wearing contact lenses. Be sure, also, to keep contact lenses clean. Deposit build up on lenses can irritate your eyes and dry them out.
- Herbal dry eye relief formulas – health food stores and pharmacies that carry supplements usually carry these herbal eye formulas under a few brands.
- Wrap Around Sunglasses – if you live in a dry, windy area, this type of sunglasses has been shown to reduce dry eye symptoms in 99% of cases!
- Hydrate, hydrate! – As I always tell my patients, you must drink enough water a day to keep all the tissues of your body, especially your eyes, lubricated. According to the Institute of Medicine, women should drink 91 ounces of water a day and men 125 ounces. Cut down on caffeine containing drinks as these can also dehydrate you.
- Humidifiers/Air Cleaners – if your house or office air seems dry, and particularly dusty be sure you change the filter on your furnace or AC at recommended intervals. In addition, an air cleaner can filter out dust and other microbes in the air. A humidifier can add moisture to too-dry air.
- Blink/Rest – blinking usually is automatic, but when you are working in front of a computer screen for long hours, you don’t blink as often. So, try and remember to manually blink your eyes every few seconds. Also, closing your eyes for 1-2 minutes will also help them re-lubricate and alleviate scratchiness.
- Vitamin/Herb Therapy – specific vitamins and herbs help the eyes stay healthy in general and these include vitamin C, bilberry, eyebright, beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene, cinnamon, and alpha lipoic acid. Good eyesight vitamin/herb/mineral formulas that contain these ingredients can be found at health food stores and pharmacies that carry supplements.
- Flax Seed Oil – 1 tablespoon a day helps lubricate you from the inside out.
- Tear Duct Plugs – you may consider these after trying all the above suggestions if your dry eyes are still bothering you. An eye doctor, ophthalmologist, can painlessly insert these in your tear ducts. They help keep more tears in the eyes instead of spilling from the tear ducts.
Although it can be an uncomfortable condition, dry eyes can almost always be successfully alleviated, or greatly improved, by the natural treatments listed above. If your dry eye condition is still causing you discomfort, see your doctor who can look into any medications that you may be taking that may be aggravating the condition. Your eyes will be tested to check the amount of tears you are producing. Other tests may also be needed to determine whether a particular illness may be the cause of your dry eyes.