Dry eye syndrome affects approximately 30 million individuals in the United States. This syndrome is particularly common among those over forty and is more common among women.  People that are affected by this syndrome face chronic eye irritation that ranges in severity from moderate symptoms of burning or itching to significant inflammation, pain, grittiness, and blurred vision.

Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca is the medical term for dry eye syndrome; it is diagnosed as a disorder that affects the adequate lubrication of the surface of the eye as a result of a decrease in tear production, increased tear evaporation, or an irregularity in mucus or lipid production in the tear layer. Tears are essential to eye comfort as they keep the eye clear of debris and dust and provide hydration. It is the lack of this constant moisture and cleaning of the eye that can result in the range of symptoms that are common with dry eye syndrome.

Eye doctors are increasingly recommending the use of flax seed oil or fish oil as a nutritional supplement – in conjunction with lubricating eye drops – to relieve symptoms of dry eyes. Flax seed oil and fish oil both contain omega-3 fatty acids which have been shown to decrease symptoms associated with dry eyes such as stinging, redness, and burning. Both of these options have benefits and choosing between the two supplements can come down to preference, research, cost and trial and error.

Flax Seed Oil

This oil contains ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), which is an omega-3 that is converted into two fatty acids during digestion. These acids, EPA and DHA have a protective effect on cell membranes within the body. If you are vegetarian, flax seed oil supplements are the best choice. You can also choose to grind your own flax seeds and sprinkle them into your foods for a less expensive option.

Fish Oil

This is the strongest form of this supplement. The omega-3 fatty acids within fish do not have to be converted during digestion since EPA and DHA are present in fish naturally.  Because no conversion is necessary these fatty acids are absorbed into the body more easily and they require much lower doses than flax seed oil to show effectiveness.

If you are concerned with the potential for high levels of mercury in your fish oil, check the label to ensure that it been tested to meet international standards for purity. If this still does not allay your concerns, then flax seed oil is your best option. If you are concerned about or experience the potential side effects of fish oil supplements which include, a fishy aftertaste, stomach upset, heartburn or reflux and diarrhea you can begin with a low dose to gauge your reaction or choose flax seed oil as an alternative.

Regardless of which option you choose, including a nutritional supplement in your treatment regime is a powerful addition to the methods you use to help alleviate the symptoms of dry eye syndrome.   Further, flax seed oil and fish oil have additional health benefits such as reducing the risk of heart disease, lowering blood pressure and reducing the risk of breast cancer to name a few.   The overall benefits plus the specific benefits to eye health make the inclusion of these powerful supplements an important choice for individuals suffering from dry eye syndrome.

As always, it is important to discuss the inclusion of these or any other nutritional supplements with your primary care physician and your eye doctor.

There are also a number of over the counter treatments that are recommended:

•       Using a humidifier
•       Lowering fans or air-flow devices
•       Keeping the environment as dust-free as possible
•       Using lubricating eye drops

These methods along with the right nutritional supplements will keep your eyes lubricated.

Source: WebMD.com, eMedicine.com, MedicineNet.com and National Library of Medicine nlm.nih.gov

About the Author

Dr. David Cronauer is a graduate of Wilkes University Pennsylvania College of Optometry affiliated, accelerated program. It was here he received his Doctor of Optometry degree in 1991. He is certified in the treatment and management of ocular disease and specializes in vision related problems for head injury and stroke victims. Dr. Cronauer is affiliated with ReplaceMyContacts.com, provider of discount “contact lenses” on more than 150 brands, including “Air Optix“,  “Biofinity Toric”, and frequency 55 multifocal.