Dry Eyes? These Treatments May Bring Relief

by Sarah Markel Health Writer

Many things cause dry eye: hormones, allergies, long hours staring at a screen, chronic health conditions such as diabetes and thyroid disease. It can also be a result of vision correct surgery. Even some cosmetic procedures can cause dry eye. Experts say the first step to finding the right treatment is to investigate the cause of dry eye. There are a wide range of treatments available depending on what is triggering the problem.

Over-the-counter eye drops

Artificial tears and ointments are the first line of treatment for mild cases of dry eye. They come in varying thicknesses; the gel-like products last longer than the liquid drops, but they can blur vision. Because preservatives used in eye drops can irritate the eye, many dry eye experts recommend preservative-free drops.

Anti-inflammatory medicines

In 2003, the Food and Drug Administration approved Restasis to treat dry eye caused by reduced tear production. The FDA recently approved Xiidra, a different kind of eye drop that reduces inflammation that can cause dry eye. Other prescription treatments for dry eye include short-term use of corticosteroids and antibiotics.

Managing medications

Dry eye is a frequent side effect of medications, especially those that treat allergies, depression, and glaucoma. Your dry eye specialist may need to work with your other doctors to adjust your medicines in order to find relief from dry eye.

Punctal plugs

For people whose tears evaporate too quickly, blocking the tear ducts can relieve dry eye symptoms. Punctal plugs are tiny devices, made of collagen or silicone, to prevent the eyes from draining. A variety of different types exist; some block eye drainage completely, others slow it down. This keeps the ocular surface moist longer, especially when used in combination with artificial tears.

Dietary supplements

Research shows a link between low intake of omega-3 fatty acids and dry eye. Maintaining a healthy balance of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids may reduce symptoms of dry eye. A small 2015 study found that women with low vitamin D levels had dry eyes, too.

Changing contact lens use

Dry eye is common among contact lens wearers. This can be due to poor hygiene, irritants in lens cleaning solutions, or the lenses themselves. Doctors recommend reducing lens-wearing time or using daily disposable lenses. It’s also important to follow the care regime recommended by your eye doctor; using the wrong eye drops with contacts can also irritate the eye.

Therapeutic eyewear

Moisture chamber and wrap-around glasses can prevent evaporation and protect the cornea in people with dry eye. Goggles for nighttime use gently keep the lids closed and seal in moisture for people who sleep with their eyes open, a condition known as lagophthalmos. Eye wear for dry eye is available by prescription and online.

Surgical procedures

A device called LipiFlow warms the eyelid margin to help liquefy the secretions from blocked meibomian glands. Intense pulsed light (IPL) is also effective for stimulating the meibomian glands in people who have meibomian gland dysfunction often associated with acne rosacea. For severe cases of dry eye, doctors can reduce drainage from the eye by permanently closing the tear ducts.

Autologous serum drops

This increasingly popular treatment for severe dry eye is made from a patient’s own blood. Red blood cells and clotting factors are removed, leaving behind blood serum which is diluted with a sterile, preservative-free solution to produce eye drops. The drops, which are not covered by insurance, lubricate the eye and deliver nutrients not available in artificial tears.

Nasal implants

While not yet FDA approved, Oculeve, a nasal device that keeps the eyes moist by stimulating tear production, may be available as early as 2017. If approved, this device will allow patients to control the amount of tears in their eyes with a hand-held transmitter.

Sarah Markel
Meet Our Writer
Sarah Markel

Sarah is an experienced medical journalist who covered psoriasis and chronic dry eye for HealthCentral.