Eyes | April 9, 2018 | Author: Naturopath
Scratchy, stinging dry eyes are common as the seasons change, and it's not always because of allergies. Dry eyes occur when there is insufficient amount or poor quality of tears in the eyes – a condition called keratoconjunctivitis sicca. Tears wash away particles and bacteria, and allow the eye to move smoothly. Without good quality tears and plenty of them, the eye is at risk of corneal scratches, infections, ulcers and vision problems – serious complications of chronically dry eyes known as “dry eyes syndrome”.
Symptoms usually improve in humid environments such as the shower, or in environments that are cool, rainy or foggy.
Tears are a mixture of water, fatty oils, mucus and proteins designed to keep the surface of the eyes smooth, clear and protected against infection. The oil helps to create a film over the water and proteins to prevent their evaporation. When the oil layer formed by the tears is too thin or patchy, the water in the mixture is quickly evaporated, leading to dryness and lack of lubrication.
In some cases, the quality of the tears is fine but the tear ducts do not produce adequate amounts of tears, or the tears cannot be released effectively.
Dry eyes need moisture! Staying hydrated is the first step towards relief – increase your intake of water, herbal teas and foods that are hydrating like cucumbers, soups and stews. Stay away from cigarettes, coffee and alcohol as these vices can dehydrate the body and reduce the quality of tears.
If you are exposed to a dry climate, try running a humidifier to add moisture to the air or regularly use a facial steamer. Many humidifiers also act as essential oil diffusers, so take advantage of this feature and try some aromatherapy for dry eyes – menthol-containing essential oils such as peppermint and spearmint can boost tear production (more on this below!).
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Holding a warm, damp cloth against the eyes for 10 minutes has been shown to reduce symptoms of dry eyes, increase the flow of tears, and improve their quality. It almost seems too simple but it is one of the most effective treatments for dry eyes.
CAUTION: Eye compresses can temporarily blur the vision, so they are best done before bed.
NB: Always patch test for reactions to essential oils before using on the face or eyes. Add 1 – 2 drops of essential oil to a warm, moist face-washer or flannel. Place the cloth onto closed eyes for 10 – 15 minutes. CAUTION: If you experience burning or unpleasant sensations, remove compress immediately and rinse eyes with plenty of water.
Doctors recommend increasing dietary intake of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids for the treatment of keratoconjunctivitis sicca and dry eyes . These healthy fats help to create the oily lipids in the tears which form a protective film over the eye and lock in moisture. Omega-3 fatty acids are also anti-inflammatory and promote the smooth flow of fats through the lymphatic system and tear secreting glands.
To increase your dietary intake of healthy fats, eat more nuts, seeds, avocados and olive oil. Try an algae omega-3 supplement for concentrated doses of anti-inflammatory essential fatty acids.
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Herba Euphrasiae goes by the common name “eyebright” – there's a hint in there for what it's good for! Herbalists use eyebright to treat a wide range of eye conditions including keratoconjunctivitis sicca and symptoms of dry eyes. Ethanol extracts of eyebright have been shown in vitro to reduce inflammation in corneal cells which may help to relieve burning, itchy and redness of the eye . Eyebright supplements and extracts can found as liquids, tablets and capsules, or the fresh flowers can be brewed into a tea. Speak to a naturopath for personal advice.
Bilberry is another herb that is often used to improve eye health. It has antioxidant properties that protect the small capillary blood vessels in the eyes and relieve symptoms of eye strain, fatigue, vision loss and redness . Its anti-inflammatory actions may also help to relieve stinging, burning and stabbing pain associated with dry eyes. Even better, it may improve the quality and flow of tears:
 Roat, M. I. (2016) Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca. Merck Manual Online Database Professional. https://www.msdmanuals.com/en-au/professional/eye-disorders/corneal-disorders/keratoconjunctivitis-sicca
 Bhargava, R., et al. (2013) A randomized controlled trial of omega-3 fatty acids in dry eye syndrome. Int J Ophthalmol., 6:6, 811–816. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3874521/
 Olson, M. C., et al. (2003) Increase in tear film lipid layer thickness following treatment with warm compresses in patients with meibomian gland dysfunction. Eye Contact Lens., 29:2, 96 – 99. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12695712
 Arita, R., et al. (2017) Effects of a warm compress containing menthol on the tear film in healthy subjects and dry eye patients. Sci Rep., 7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5381094/
 Paduch, R., et al. (2014) Assessment of Eyebright (Euphrasia Officinalis L.) Extract Activity in Relation to Human Corneal Cells Using In Vitro Tests. Balkan Med., 31:1, 29 – 36. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4115993/
 Riva, A., et al. (2017) The effect of a natural, standardized bilberry extract (Mirtoselect®) in dry eye: a randomized, double blinded, placebo-controlled trial. European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Sciences, 21, 2518 – 2525. http://www.europeanreview.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2518-2525-Bilberry-extract-in-dry-eye.pdf
 Ozawa, Y., et al. (2015) Bilberry extract supplementation for preventing eye fatigue in video display terminal workers. J Nutr Health Aging., 19:5, 548 – 554. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25923485
 Walsh, M. P., et al. (2012) Is whole-body hydration an important consideration in dry eye? Invert Ophthalmol Vis Sci., 53:10, 6622 – 6627. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22952120