Are there any simple, natural dry eye remedies?
Dryness of our eyes is an extremely common problem for millions of people of all ages. It affects women much more frequently than men, and affects us more as we age, especially around the time of menopause for women. If you’ve ever watched the national news media, then you’ve probably seen my colleague, Dr. Alison Tendler, MD who has dry eyes, uses Restasis eye drops for dry eyes, and consults for Allergan, the manufacturer of Restasis. The number of commercials, and therefore the money spent in advertising, is proof of the how big a problem dryness of the eyes is. The expense of the prescription eye drops is even more reason to use natural dry eye remedies.
“Dryness” has many causes. Almost any irritation of the eyes can be labeled as dryness, but irritation of the eyes can be caused by contact lens allergies, environmental allergies, foreign body in the eyes, inflammation on the surface of the eyes, lid or eyelash problems, among many others. Because there are multiple causes of dry eyes, there are many commercially available and natural remedies for dry eyes. While there are simple, natural dry eye remedies, in this blog post I’m going to focus on what I believe to be the top twelve.
To begin with, I think it’s important to have a basic knowledge of the eye, so I’m going to talk about the anatomy of our eyes and the anatomical origin of the various causes of dry eyes.
Next, I’ll talk about the various causes of dry eyes, followed by a list of twelve suggestions about how to cure dry eyes naturally.
Anatomy of the external eye
Our eyelids and skin around our eyes helps us to have a healthy tear film. Our eyebrows are important to help filter out dust, our eyelashes likewise keep foreign bodies and dust out of our eyes. The eyelids have oil glands called Meibomian glands that produce and secrete oil that coats the surface of our eyes and keeps the surface of our eyes healthy and lubricated. There are lacrimal glands that contribute the water component and keep the eye lubricated and healthy. The inside corners of our eyes have the nasolacrimal duct that acts as a drain to remove the tear film and anything contained in it. Any deficiency or abnormality in the above structures can impair the health of our visual system.
- Eyebrows: If they are thin or missing, the dust, debris and foreign bodies may be more likely to fall directly in our eyes.
- Eyelashes: Missing eyelashes can be quite bothersome. We are much more likely to have foreign bodies, dust and debris in our eyes if there is nothing to protect them in harsher environments. There can also be small parasites called demodex, and other lid and lash inflammation grouped into disorders called blepharitis.
- Meibomian glands: These glands are essential to secrete the oil layer that coats the surface of the eye and keeps the water layer from evaporating. There is a very common abnormality of Meibomian glands where they get plugged or simply don’t secrete oil as well as they used to. This is called Meibomian gland dysfunction. Contact lenses decrease the health of the meibomian glands. People that have “red-rimmed eyes” often have this meibomian gland dysfunction that causes irritation. A common inflammatory skin condition called rosacea often affect the eyelids and can cause loss of eyelashes and Meibomian gland dysfunction. A Stye or Chalazion is a tender bump on our eyelids that is the result of Meibomian gland dysfunction and resulting plugged duct that causes oil to accumulate in the gland. It’s basically a pimple of the eyelid.
- Lacrimal gland dysfunction: There is a large lacrimal gland located under the upper outer bone of our eye socket that is capable of secreting a large amount of water to wash away foreign bodies and lubricate the eye. There are also multiple smaller lacrimal glands located on the surface of our eye and inside of our eyelids that continuously secrete water that create the baseline water secretion necessary for a comfortable and healthy eye surface.
- Mucinous layer: The very lowest surface layer of our eye is coated with mucin, a very slippery protein that helps our eye hold on to water. If this surface breaks down, the water dries out more quickly and leads to an unhealthy skin layer and symptoms of dry eyes. We often need to repair this skin layer and can potentially accomplish this with a dry eye home remedy. Each layer of the tear film is dependent on the layer above and below it. If one layer is damaged or dysfunctional, the whole tear film breaks down.
- Nasolacrimal duct: In the upper and lower eyelid at the edge closest to our nose there is a tiny hole that you can see if you look very carefully. This is called the nasolacrimal punctum which pulls water from the corner of our eye and drains it down into the middle meatus, a part of our sinuses of our nose. This is why when we cry at a movie or emotional crying, we have a runny nose. If this drainage system fails to drain the surface of our eyes, we may have continuous tearing which can blur our vision and be very annoying. It also can irritate the corners of our eyes. This also may create dysfunction on the surface of our eyes that can be annoying and difficult to deal with.
Causes of dry eyes
To have excellent vision and comfortable eyes, it is essential to have a healthy tear film. Anatomically, there are multiple components that contribute to a healthy tear film.
Dryness of our eyes basically occurs due to dysfunction on one of the layers of our tear film. The tear film is a complex structure, and when any part of it breaks down, there is a degradation in our vision and comfort of our eyes.
Dryness of the surface of our eyes can also be due to simply becoming dehydrated. If the surface of our eyes has a dysfunction of either the mucin layer, the water layer, or the oil layer, it all breaks down and the surface will dry out much more easily. If the underlying skin becomes dry, it also can become a vicious cycle where the underlying skin is unhealthy and therefore the surface never can become stable. We often direct therapy toward improving the surface skin layer, so that everything on top of it can improve also.
It’s important to get a correct diagnosis with a complete eye examination by your optometrist or ophthalmologist. Your eye-care professional can diagnose and help you to understand if you have a dysfunctional eyelid, or any other structure. He or she can also determine whether your symptoms are due to dryness. Allergies, skin conditions as mentioned above called rosacea, or lack of coverage of your eyes due to a failure for your eyelids to close while asleep, also can cause severe dryness. The condition whereby your eyelids don’t completely close when you blink or sleep is called lagophthalmos, and can lead to severe dryness. It’s not that unusual!
Allergies are extremely common and often misdiagnosed as dry eyes. At SharpeVision MODERN LASIK, we see a very common problem called Giant Papillary Conjunctivitis (GPC) which is due to an allergy to the contact lens material. There is constant inflammation on the surface of your eyes and eyelids due to the contacts and the proteins that stick to them that cause bumps to develop on the inside of your eyelids. These are called papillae. After GPC occurs, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to comfortably wear contact lenses. This is why LASIK and PRK, or other vision correction procedures, are an excellent option for someone who has developed GPC.
Environmental allergies are also very common and give symptoms similar to dryness of the surface of your eyes. This can be improved by allergy drops such as Pataday (olpatadine) which is an over-the-counter eye drop, and is excellent for ocular allergies. Better yet, a home remedy for ocular allergies is to avoid the allergen. This can be difficult to do, but through air filtration, reduction in pet dander and dust, as well as living in a part of the country that is known for lower environmental allergies, you can reduce allergy symptoms. Pretty extreme, but I’ve heard of people doing this. Talk about a home remedy for dry eyes!
The good news is that there is help for dry eyes. There are “dry eyes natural remedy” and of course multiple over-the-counter dry eye remedies. Often, we experiment with multiple over-the-counter commercially available drops as well as many natural dry eye remedies that involve different diet, supplements, hydration, and other ways to improve the health of the surface of our eyes. In doing so we may improve our vision and comfort of the eyes. Home remedies for dry eyes can often be the best, easiest, and cheapest ways to improve dry eyes.
How to cure dry eyes naturally
The following are twelve suggestions on how to cure dry eyes naturally:
- Drink more water: This sounds obvious, but if your eyes are feeling particularly dry, you can drink 16 ounces of water and feel better almost immediately. If your eyes are burning or irritated, this can help quickly.
- Wear sunglasses: A lot of dryness can be due to the evaporation of the water layer on the surface of your eyes. Sunglasses, especially the wrap-around or glacier type, can keep the air flow to a minimum on the surface of your eyes which can increase the comfort and lessen the dryness of the surface of your eyes.
- Fish oil: A change in your diet to include more frequent servings of wild caught salmon, or other types of highly oily fish, can be delicious and improve your eye health. You can often supplement with fish oil capsules. I would recommend Nordic Naturals, a sustainable and naturally caught source of fish oil that is not processed like most high volume discount brands.
- Warm compresses: A homemade remedy for dry eyes can include a small sock filled with rice that you can put in the microwave to get it nice and warm, but not too hot. You can place this warm rice bag on your eyes to help warm the oil glands. This will allow them to secrete the oil more easily and make your eyes feel better and improve the surface of your eyes by increasing the oil layer.
- Decrease the inflammation in the skin of your eyes: As I mentioned above, there is a condition called rosacea that is an inflammation in the skin of your face that often causes a butterfly pattern of inflammation in your forehead, nose, and cheeks. It can also involve your eyes and chin. One way to improve this is to test your diet through elimination. Often there are pro-inflammatory foods that you are unknowingly eating that can contribute to this skin inflammation that affects the surface of your eyes and oil glands in your facial skin and eyelid skin. A dermatologist is the primary doctor to treat this condition and often will prescribe pharmacologic products. This is not necessarily bad, but you can help yourself potentially as much or more by figuring out what in your diet is potentially causing the inflammation and eliminating it.
- Increase the humidity in your environment: One easy home remedy for dry eyes is to use a humidifier such as is used for babies’ rooms. This can increase the humidity in your bedroom while you’re sleeping, your office while you are working, or any other environment that may be very dry. Dryness in the environment often is worse in the winter. Wood stoves or radiators heat the air but do not provide any humidity and can exacerbate dryness. Add the humidity if you can. Most forced air furnaces have humidifiers in them, but you can increase the intensity of the humidifier to improve the overall humidity in your house or apartment. You also can purchase a hygrometer, a device that measures humidity in the air. Try to keep it at 50% or higher.
- Live in a place that has high humidity: I have had patients travel to Vietnam or other places on vacation and report that they had no symptoms of dryness of the eyes while they were there. It’s extreme, but if you can live somewhere with a tropical level of humidity, that wouldn’t be all bad!
- Decrease your amount of screen time: While we are intensely concentrating on our devices such as laptops, tablets, smart phones, or other screens that are very close to us, we may blink less frequently, and that can exacerbate the dryness of our eyes. What better home remedy then to take a walk or do something other than fritter away the hours on useless social media etc.!
- Assess your medications: An excellent home remedy for dryness of the eyes is to reduce or eliminate the medications that can cause dryness. Many SSRIs, medications for stress incontinence, beta blockers, and others can cause eye dryness. If you can possibly reduce the dosage, or eliminate the medication, you may find that not only is the dryness of your eyes less severe, but you may improve your overall health without having an unnecessary medication.
- Get active: I don’t think it can be overstated how important it is to exercise. This gets your heart flowing, your eyes moving and your tears improving. Use it or lose it! Our bodies atrophy in so many ways when we are sedentary. All aspects of your health, including the dryness of your eyes, will improve through good cardiovascular health and mental health.
- Get an annual eye exam: There are so many ways that this simple screening can improve your health. As eye care professionals, we can screen for eye conditions and general health conditions. Everyone who is a diabetic is at risk for eye disease and can prevent loss of vision through regular eye screening exams. Symptoms that may seem like just annoying dryness can be signs of ocular allergies or more serious conditions. Call your eye care professional today if you have not done so in the past year. I can’t over stress the importance of screening for preventing eye health problems, such as glaucoma, that can save your vision or even your life! An excellent ophthalmology sub specialist colleague of mine, Dr. Laura Periman, MD has dedicated her practice to helping patients with severe dry eyes and is an investigator for new home dry eyes remedies as well as pharmacological remedies for dry eyes, often called ocular surface disorders. Dr. Paul Jensen, OD is also a wonderful dry eye specialist.
- Education: Educating yourself about dos and don’t when it comes to your eyes is extraordinarily important as well.
- Homemade eyedrops for instance could cause an infection that could lead to blindness. Do not make homemade eyedrops! This is one subject on which I am completely inflexible.
- Commercially made artificial tears are guaranteed to be sterile. They are generally made with and without preservatives. Preservative free eyedrops should only be used quickly after opening the vial. Don’t reuse later, as they can become contaminated and cause an eye infection.
- Don’t open your eyes in a hot tub (or even go in a public hot tub), if you can help it. They’re generally disgusting and rightfully so. They may be contaminated with dangerous bacteria, such as Pseudomonas Aeruginosa, which can eat through your cornea overnight.
- Don’t sleep in your contact lenses! This is a dangerous gamble with your eyes. You may seem to get away with it, but infections are ten times more likely in those who sleep in their contacts than those who don’t. The other risk is that you develop GPC (see above) and can no longer wear your contacts.
- Bonus: Get vision correction surgery! The irritation of contacts and hassle of glasses is simply not worth it. You’re better of financially, and health and lifestyle-wise, when you can see clearly without worrying about your contacts and glasses. Call us at 425-451-2020, or schedule your free comprehensive exam with us online at sharpe-vision.com.
-Dr. Matthew R. Sharpe