The most frequent complaint ophthalmologists receive from patients is dry eyes. The symptoms may include dryness, grittiness, irritation, burning and even excessive tearing or watering, which is in itself a contradiction.
Like most eye conditions, dry eye syndrome is often related to other health conditions in the body. It is commonly associated with dryness of other mucous membranes, pain in joints and brittle nails. It can be also a sign of digestive imbalances.
Who gets dry eyes?
As we get older, our eyes get drier. However, dry eyes is mostly a health problem for women and seems to be the result of fluctuations in hormone levels, particularly estrogen and androgens.
Dry eyes can be a problem as we age because our eyes produce on average 40 percent less lubrication. Free radicals are the main culprit; they take their toll over time, damaging body tissues and increasing the symptoms of dry eyes. Some people lack a sufficient volume of tears, or their tears might have the wrong composition.
Pregnant women, women who use birth control pills, and postmenopausal women on hormone replacement therapy often report dry eyes.
Dry eyes in postmenopausal women can also be a sign of Sjögren’s syndrome, also known as Sicca syndrome. Sicca syndrome is considered the most commonly misdiagnosed of all health conditions in women over the age of 40.
In Sjögren’s syndrome, dry eyes are accompanied by dryness in other parts of the body: mouth, joints, sore throat, dry skin, dry cracked lips, dry scalp and brittle nails. These symptoms are caused by an autoimmune process in which antibodies attack fluid-secreting cells. It may also cause fatigue.
The use of contact lenses can also contribute to dry eyes because over time, contact lenses can reduce the sensitivity of the cornea. The sensitivity of the cornea and the entire ocular surface determines how many tears the lacrimal gland will secrete. The less sensitive the cornea, the fewer tears you will have.
Smoking, environmental allergens, air conditioning and wind can also cause dry eyes. Some medications, including eye drops can trigger dry eyes.
Are eye drops a solution?
Although you may find some relief with eye drops, they merely help the symptoms. Actually, the preservatives in many of these products can make the problem worse. In fact, they can even kill the cells in the cornea.
Eye drops called vasoconstrictors that promise to “get the red out” will reduce circulation in the eye, and will decrease production of tears. Eventually they will make your eyes even drier.
Always use eye drops without preservatives. These have been shown to enhance the healing of the cornea and improve the problem of dry eyes. Ask your doctor or pharmacist to recommend a good brand without preservatives.
A diet to prevent or treat dry eyes
A good diet can help you alleviate dry eyes. Here are some guidelines:
Protein. Emphasize fish. Fish is rich in omega-3 fats, and these fats are essential for the production of both, the oily and the watery lipid layers of the film that produces the tears.
Fats. Avoid the fats in commercial red meat, dairy products, fried foods, and hydrogenated oils such as margarine and shortening. These fats interfere with the proper metabolism and are indirect causes of dry eyes.
Whole grains. Eat brown rice and whole grains instead of refined grains such as white bread and pasta.
Vegetables. Eat lots of green leafy vegetables. Organic vegetable juices made at home are an excellent way to include green leafy vegetables.
Fruit. Eat less fruit in general.
Drink lots of water. Drink 8 to 10 glasses a day to maintain the flow of nutrients to the lens and the release of wastes and toxins from tissues.
Eliminate sugar from your diet. If you suffer from dry eyes, you need to eliminate sugar and artificial sweeteners. Sugar increases the risk for dry eyes. Consumption of more than 11 teaspoons of sugar per day (most of which is hidden in processed foods) has been linked to the eye syndrome.
A single can of soda contains about nine teaspoons of sugar. Sugar is hidden in many processed and refined foods such as cereals, ketchup, and salad dressings. Read the labels.
Vitamins and minerals
Vitamin A – Vitamin A deficiency can cause severe dry eye syndrome and be the cause of blindness. Vitamin A is needed for the health of all epithelial (surface) tissues; it is found in the tear film of healthy eyes and it is crucial in the production of the mucous layer of the tears.
If you use eyes drops, make sure they contain both vitamins A and C because they protect the eyes from free radicals such as toxins, irritants, allergens and inflammation.
Vitamin C – Vitamin C is concentrated in the tear film to a higher level than that found in the blood. It protects the eyes from free radicals and it is needed for proper sugar metabolism. A supplement of 1,500 mg of vitamin C can help with dry eyes.
Vitamin B complex and folic acid – The B vitamins work synergistically. Excess of one B vitamin can cause a deficiency of another. Health authorities recommend that you take vitamin complex that contains a minimum daily dose of 25 to 50 mg of each vitamin. These vitamins are essential for tear production.
Minerals – A person with dry eyes usually lacks the ability to absorb minerals, especially calcium, magnesium, and zinc. These minerals are essential for the production of tears as well as a healthy cornea.
Lack of adequate vitamins can cause or make worse your dry eye condition. You may want to get a good multivitamin to prevent the problem.