What can you do for dry eyes?
"Drink a lot of water, remember to blink and take omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil," writes Robert Abel Jr., author of "The Eye Care Revolution."
Oil is a normal part of tears. Without enough oil in the tears they evaporate too quickly.
A women's health study of more than 32,000 subjects found that women who consumed a large amount of omega-6 oils (from processed foods and cooking oils) and relatively small amounts of omega-3 oils (from salmon, sardines, tuna, walnuts and flax) were two and one-half times more likely to suffer from dry eye syndrome. High amounts of omega-6 oils can promote inflammation, while omega-3 fats have an anti-inflammatory effect. Increased levels of inflammation-promoting compounds occur in the eyes of patients with DES.
"The first place to look for a cause of dryness is your medications," writes physician Paul Donahue in his column "Your Health."
Diuretics, sleeping pills, antihistamines and antidepressants can dry the eyes. Pain relievers, beta-blockers, cancer medications and oral contraceptives, as well as artificial sweeteners (especially aspartame) are also guilty of reducing tear secretion.
As we age, our eyes produce about 50 percent less moisture, and women are most affected, especially after menopause.
Research reported in The Journal of the American Medical Association involving 25,000 post-menopausal women concluded "women who use hormone replacement therapy, particularly estrogen alone, are at increased risk of dry eye syndrome."
Women over age 55 are also more likely to suffer from the autoimmune disease Sjogren's syndrome. This inflammatory condition leads to dry eyes, dry mouth and joint pain.
Symptoms of dry eyes include stinging or burning eyes, scratchiness and stringy mucus in or around the eye. People with dry eyes can develop watery eyes when the lacrimal gland compensates for dryness by producing excessive tears. Ophthalmologists sometimes plug a tear duct to conserve tears or correct watery eyes.
Eye doctors recommend wearing wrap-around sunglasses to protect the eye surface from wind and sun. Drafts from ceiling fans, car vents and hair dryers increase evaporation of tears.
Soft contact lenses contribute to eye dryness, and eye makeup can thin the oily layer of tear film. Smoking causes dry spots on the surface of the eyes. Dryness and redness may be due to dehydration from too much caffeine or certain medications.
Good vision relies on tears to wash away irritants. Consciously blinking helps squeeze out tears from the glands and cleanses the eyes while massaging the surface.
After staring at a TV screen or computer, take blink breaks to reduce eyestrain. A technique known as palming helps soothe tired eye muscles.
Rub your hands together briskly to create warmth, then place your cupped hands over closed eyes. The heel of each hand rests on your cheekbones, but does not touch your eyes. The darkness and warmth over the eyes relaxes the whole body.
What about eye drops?
"People who use redness-reducing eye drops are pouring immense amounts of chemicals into their eyes, actually causing irritation," physician Marguerite McDonald said.
Conventional eye drops contain vasoconstrictors that reduce the blood supply to the eye and can cause rebound, which worsens redness in the long run. Eye drops and artificial tear solutions contain irritating preservatives. Natural eye drops are a safe and effective alternative for dryness and allergy symptoms, such as redness and itching. Most natural brands rely on homeopathic and/or herbal ingredients to help moisturize the eyes without irritation.
You can also find supplements that promote eye moisture from within. The ingredients support healthy tear film by supplying fish oil, borage oil and fat-soluble vitamins A, E and D, along with vitamin C and other nutrients important for eye health.
When eyes are dry, your body may be sending three signals: change the oil, add more fluid (water) and turn on the blinkers.
The information in this article is for educational purposes. Consult your physician if you have a medical condition.
Margot Bennett is a licensed nutritionist at Mother Nature's Pantry, located in the Garden Square Shoppes, 4513 PGA Blvd. in Palm Beach Gardens. Call her at (561) 626-4461.