Dry eye is a common condition that can affect anyone. It can happen due to age, medical conditions, or as a side effect of certain medications.
The good news is that several treatments can help. These include over-the-counter (OTC) eye drops and prescription medications such as Restasis and Xiidra, which curb inflammation in the tear glands and can improve signs and symptoms of dry eye.
1. Over-the-Counter Eye Drops
A wide variety of over-the-counter (OTC) eye drops is designed to treat dry eyes. They come in a liquid, gel, or ointment form and can be used day and night to provide relief from redness, itching, and irritation.
They can also promote healing, slow tear evaporation, or provide other benefits. The best over-the-counter dry eye drops for you depend on your specific symptoms, health and medical history, and lifestyle.
The most effective over-the-counter eye drops for dry eyes are those that lubricate and soothe your eye surface and relieve symptoms such as itching, burning, or redness. They can be a good first step in treating dry eye, but if your symptoms persist or worsen after using OTC treatments, schedule an appointment with your optometrist to get a more personalized recommendation for treatment.
Your doctor may recommend a preservative-free artificial tear for those with extremely sensitive eyes to use as a lubricating eye drop. These drops are available over the counter and can be reused for up to three days without contamination with bacteria or germs.
If you have severe dry eye, your ophthalmologist might prescribe Restasis or Xiidra. Both medications contain cyclosporine, which decreases inflammation in the eye and the lacrimal gland and increase tear production. Typically, patients notice improvement within three months of using the medication.
Another option is a lipid-based moisturizing eye drop, which strengthens the outer lipid layer of the tear film and helps to support the watery or aqueous layer. Lipid-based drops can help prevent evaporation and are recommended by many providers for those with mild to moderate dry eyes.
These lubricating eye drops can be purchased over the counter and come in convenient, single-use vials, making them easy to store on hand. They are also ideal for contact lens wearers, as they can be dropped in even while wearing contacts to rewet the eye and relieve dryness.
Other OTC options for dry eye include Visine Tired Eye, which helps to relieve redness and itching caused by too much screen time or environmental factors such as cigarette smoke. These products can be helpful in the short term. Still, reducing your digital screen time and working with your doctor to change your diet or medication regimen is often more effective.
2. Prescription Eye Drops
If you’ve been using OTC eye drops for a while to treat your dry eyes, but they don’t seem to work, talk with your doctor about getting prescription eye drops. They can effectively reduce dry eye symptoms and may help you get a more permanent fix for your problem.
Prescription eye drops come in many different formulas and brands, so it’s important to pick the one that is right for you. It’s also a good idea to choose ones that don’t have any preservatives. These can cause serious damage to the cornea and conjunctival epithelium, so you should only use them as your ophthalmologist prescribes.
Two of the best-known prescription eye drops are Restasis and Xiidra (lifitegrast). These drugs contain cyclosporine, an immunosuppressant that can decrease inflammation. They are usually taken as a drop in each eye twice a day, 12 hours apart.
The downside to these medications is that they can take months before you see major changes in your dry eye symptoms. Remembering that they work best as a supplement to a comprehensive, well-rounded dry eye treatment regimen is important. That includes avoiding contact lenses, keeping your eyelids clean and healthy, and eating a balanced diet.
Some over-the-counter drops can help with allergies and bacterial infections like pink eye. Still, they don’t do much to improve your symptoms. They contain antihistamines that block the histamine that triggers allergic reactions, calming your eyes and relieving you.
Another popular OTC eye drop is rewetting drops, specially formulated for contact lens wearers and can add moisture to dry eyes. They’re available in liquid, gel, and ointment forms, making them convenient for everyday use.
These products come in single-use vials, so they don’t spread disease between uses. Some of these droppers also have an additional lubricating effect that can make them even more effective.
Several other over-the-counter and prescription treatments for dry eyes include warm compresses, omega-3 fatty acids, and oral dry-eye supplements. These products can also reduce irritation and redness and improve your tear production.
3. Warm Compresses
A warm compress can relieve symptoms of extremely dry eyes and may also help prevent them from occurring. It is a safe and simple home treatment that can be used daily to reduce symptoms. It can be particularly effective for managing evaporative dry eye, one of the most common forms.
A clean, soft cloth soaked in warm water is the best way to make a warm compress. This can be done by putting the cloth in a bowl of hot water or running a pot over it for a few seconds.
You can also use tea bags that have been steeped in hot water, or you can use a lint-free cloth that has been disinfected with 91% rubbing alcohol. Whether you use a damp towel, a tea bag, or a lint-free cloth, apply the compress over the eyelids for five to 10 minutes.
Warm compresses are often recommended with over-the-counter and prescription eye drops to help manage the symptoms of extremely dry eyes. These can include eye twitching, irritation, itching, and redness.
The warm compress helps relieve the discomfort associated with dry eyes by encouraging more circulation to the area and relaxing muscles that can make symptoms worse. It can also encourage the release of natural oils needed to maintain the tear film.
It can also help improve the quality of your tears by helping to stabilize their moisture level, which is important in preventing evaporative dry eye from developing. It can also relieve the symptoms of meibomian gland dysfunction, which is another type of dry eye that causes the tiny glands along the edges of your eyes to be unable to properly produce the oil required to keep your tears hydrated.
If you have a stye or chalazion, the warm compress can help rupture and drain them naturally. A warm compress can also ease the pain and swelling associated with these conditions.
4. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
One of the best treatment options for extremely dry eyes is to consume foods and supplements that contain omega-3 fatty acids. These oils are essential for human health and help your body build a healthy immune system and manage triglyceride levels.
A diet with plenty of fish, nuts, and seeds can provide a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. These fats include eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). They can also be found in other plant sources, such as vegetable oil, nuts, and flaxseed.
The main reason why dietary supplementation of these oils is helpful for dry eye sufferers is that they can increase production in the meibomian glands. These glands produce the oily layer of your tear film, which helps moisturize your eyes.
Another reason consuming fish and fish oil is beneficial for your eye health is that it can help reduce inflammation in the eyes, which can cause dryness. It can also help protect your eyes from age-related conditions such as macular degeneration and cataracts.
To reap the benefits of a good intake of omega-3s, you need to ensure you obtain them from a reliable source. It is recommended to seek out a brand with third-party testing and purity standards.
For the most benefit, ensuring that the oil you purchase is sourced from sustainable fish species such as salmon or mackerel is important. Sadly, some fish stocks are being depleted, so you may need to look for alternative sources of these nutrients.
Finally, it is important to remember that these oils can be prone to spoiling. Therefore, storing them away from heat and light is important, which will prevent further oxidation.
Although there is some evidence that EPA and DHA supplements can help relieve symptoms of dry eye, it is still not clear whether they will actually cure the condition. However, it is a good idea to consult your doctor before starting any new supplementation regimen. Your doctor can advise you on lifestyle changes, self-care products, and other therapies that can help ease your dry eye symptoms.