Dry eye syndrome is a condition where your natural tears don’t lubricate your eyes adequately. This can result in your eyes feeling uncomfortable and irritated. It is usually chronic, meaning sufferers are affected long-term.
There is a whole range of different treatments available for dry eyes, from eye drops to procedures to home therapies.
In this article, we’re going to look at fish oil for dry eyes. Fish oil, which can be obtained from eating fish or using supplements, contains omega-3 fatty acids that can help reduce inflammation and relieve dry eyes. Read on to know more about this natural treatment for dry eyes.
Why Do Your Eyes Need to Be Kept Moist?
When your eyes are functioning normally, tears are dispersed every time you blink. They’re essential to keeping your eyes healthy as they offer lubrication and help get rid of any debris in your eyes.
So if your tear production is not as it should be, you will be vulnerable to dry eye syndrome and possibly infection and damage to the eye as well.
What Causes Dry Eyes?
Your tear film is made up of three components: oil, aqueous (containing water) fluid, and mucus. If these are all in balance, your tear film should be healthy. But if there’s a problem with one of them, you may experience dry eyes.
Problems with your tear film may be triggered by:
- Autoimmune disease
- Hormonal changes
- Low humidity environment
- Irritated or inflamed eyelid glands
You may also simply not produce enough tears or your tears may evaporate at a fast rate, causing your eyes to become dry and irritated.
What Are the Risk Factors for Dry Eyes?
- People who use digital devices frequently (e.g. smartphones, laptops, tablets)
- Some people are more at risk of dry eyes than others. These groups include:
- Anyone over the age of fifty
- Women, particularly those who have gone through menopause
- Long-term users of contact lenses
- Users of certain medications, including antihistamines, HRT (hormone replacement therapy), and antidepressants
- People who have had corrective laser surgery on their eyes
- People living in dry environmental conditions
How does Fish Oil for Dry Eyes help?
Fish oil contains omega-3 fatty acids called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). These acids are found in every cell in the human body and perform a number of roles.
One of these is to help stimulate the production of the oil that forms part of your tears. DHA and EPA also help to reduce inflammation through the body, including around the eye area.
How Can I Take Fish Oil?
Fish oil can be taken as a dietary supplement. It comes in a liquid or capsule form and can be purchased from most drugstores.
You can also increase the amount of fatty fish in your diet. Examples include salmon, mackerel, trout, and tuna. Aim for two servings of fatty fish a week to ensure you get sufficient levels of DHA and EPA in your diet.
Does Fish Oil work for Dry Eyes? Let’s take a look at the evidence
- A systematic review of 350 people taking omega-three having a moderate daily dose of omega-three may help
- A large review of 4314 people across 34 clinical studies found that fish oil helps
- A review of the role of nutritional supplements in dry eyes found that omega-three has a robust evidence base
- Omega three helped reduce inflammation in the eyes after cataract surgery
- One study showed that omega-three fatty acids help protect corneal nerves from damage in dry eyes
How Does Fish Oil Compare to Other Oils?
Fish oil is not the only oil that offers essential omega-3 fatty acids. You can also find them in foods like chia and flax seeds, walnuts, and olive oil.
So how do these different sources of omega-3 fatty acids compare?
A study (1) carried out by the Dry Eye Assessment and Management (DREAM) Research Group recruited 535 patients with a history of dry eyes. It asked 349 of them to take fish-derived omega-3 fatty acids supplements over a 12-month period. The remaining 186 people in the placebo group were given olive oil supplements.
After the trial period, both groups saw an improvement in their dry eye symptoms and the difference was almost exactly the same, whether participants had taken fish oil or olive oil supplements.
The takeaway from this is that omega-3 oils from any source can help improve dry eye symptoms.
Other studies have confirmed that fish oil is indeed good for relieving dry eyes. One research project (2) asked 105 people to take a supplement, with roughly one half taking an omega-3 supplement and the remainder taking a placebo. It concluded that people in the group that had taken omega-3 enjoyed a significant improvement in their symptoms compared to those in the placebo group.
Looking for a good quality omega-three made for dry eyes?
What Are the Other Benefits of Fish Oil?
It’s worth mentioning the other health benefits of increasing your consumption of omega-3 fatty acids from fish or other sources.
They’re great for heart health as they lower your risk of heart disease and stroke.
There are benefits for your brain and mental health, too. Consuming adequate levels of omega-3 fatty acids can reduce your risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease and may slow the advance of mental health issues, including depression.
Omega-3 fatty acids also have the ability to keep your triglyceride (a type of fat found in your blood) levels in check.
Risks Associated With Taking Fish Oil
If you’re planning on taking fish oil or increasing your consumption of fish, it’s a good idea to consult with your doctor before doing so.
You should also be aware of the risks associated with taking fish oil. It may interact with blood-thinning medication like Warfarin. In addition, certain fish contain high levels of mercury, which can be harmful, particularly if you are pregnant or planning to get pregnant. Fish with high levels of mercury include:
- King mackerel
What If I Follow a Plant-Based or Vegan Diet?
If you follow a plant-based diet and don’t want to eat fish or take fish-derived supplements, you can increase your intake of the foods mentioned previously that are also rich in omega-3 acids (chia and flax seeds, walnuts, and olive oil).
You can also opt for an omega-3 supplement produced from algae, which contains DHA and may also contain EPA, offering similar benefits to taking fish oil.
What Else Can I Do to Relieve My Dry Eyes?
Taking fish oil or increasing fish in your diet is just one of many steps you can take to relieve the symptoms of dry eyes. You may also want to try:
- Using lubricating eye drops or ointment recommended by your doctor
- Applying a warm compress to your eyes for five minutes at a time, once or twice a day
- Cleaning your eyelids with hypochlorous acid, tea tree cleanser or okra cleanser
- Using a humidifier to increase the moisture in your environment
- Wearing sunglasses with side protection (or dry eye glasses) to prevent tear evaporation
- Drinking plenty of water and other fluids
- Avoiding exposure to smoke
Learn more about dry eye treatments here
Omega-3 Fatty Acids Are Beneficial for Health
While some researchers say that taking fish oil for dry eyes is no better than taking any other omega-3 based oil, others confirm that’s an effective way to relieve symptoms.
What we do know is that omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial for many aspects of your health and well-being and may bring relief to people suffering from the unpleasant effects of dry eye syndrome.
If you’re looking for ways to help with dry eye syndrome, your doctor is your best starting point. They can advise you on lifestyle changes, self-care, and medication, including eye drops, that can help make your eyes more comfortable.
If you know the discomfort of dry, irritated eyes, you’ll be keen to try one or more approaches to help you get back to living life to the full again. Good luck on your journey!
1. The Dry Eye Assessment and Management Study Research Group. 2018. Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation for treatment of dry eye disease. N Engl J Med. Published online April 13.
2. Epitropoulos A, Donnenfeld E, Shah Z, Holland E, Gross M, Faulkner W, Matossian C, Lane S, Toyos M, Bucci F, Perry H. ‘Effect of Oral Re-esterified Omega-3 Nutritional Supplementation on Dry Eyes,’ Cornea, 2016 Sep; 35(9): 1185–1191. Published online 2016 July 20. doi: 10.1097/ICO.0000000000000940.