Healthy Eating, Healthy Eyes
The symptoms are all too familiar to an estimated 10 million Americans. Grittiness. Irritation. Redness. Itching. Perhaps even worse with tearing that impairs vision.
Those signs point to dry eye, a condition when the eyes simply cant produce enough or the proper quality of tears to lubricate and nourish the eyes. Fortunately, in most cases, your doctor of optometry can find the right treatment to keep your eyes healthy and relieve the discomfort. And nutrition may play a big role in protecting your vision.
A Closer Look at Dry EyeYour eyes need moisture to provide essential lubrication for healthy vision. Tears do the job naturally through three layers:
- Outer oily layer
- Middle watery layer
- Inner mucus layer
Causes of Dry Eye
As you age, your eyes naturally become drier. Consequently, the majority of people older than 65 experience some symptoms of dry eye. The frequency and severity varies but may include irritated or gritty eyes, redness, burning, a feeling that something is in your eyes, blurred vision, and excessive watering.But age isnt the only factor. Dry eye can stem from:
- Gender: Women are more likely to develop dry eye with hormonal changes during pregnancy, using oral contraceptives and following menopause.
- Medications: Decongestants, antihistamines, and antidepressants can reduce tear production.
- Medical Conditions: Health issues with arthritis, diabetes, Sjogrens syndrome, and thyroid problems can produce symptoms. There are a number of eye conditions inflammation of the eyelids or eye surfaces and inward or outward eyelids that can be factors.
- Environment: Dry climates and exposure to wind and smoke may trigger dry eye. Its also important to blink regularly, especially if you work at a computer for long periods of time.
- Eyewear/Surgery: For some people, long-term wearing of contact lenses may cause dry eye (or make eyes less comfortable if they are dry), and previous eye surgery, such as LASIK, may lead to a temporary decrease in tear production.
- Heavy cosmetics: When the lid margin is coated with makeup, it can block the openings of the oily gland.
While dry eye may be a chronic condition, your optometrist can diagnose your condition, provide treatments, and ease the discomfort.First, consider what you can do to lessen the symptoms:
- Blink more frequently, especially when reading or staring at a computer screen (studies have shown our blink rate goes down during these activities) and ensure that the monitor is at or below eye level.
- Increase humidity in your office and home.
- Wear sunglasses with wraparound frames to reduce exposure to wind and sun.
- Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.
- Eat fish or take a nutritional supplement that contains a polyunsaturated fatty acid.
- Add Tears: In mild cases, over-the-counter lubricant eyedrops may manage the symptoms. You should use solutions that contain fewer additives (your doctor may recommend preservative-free), lessening further irritation if you have to use the artificial tears often.
- Increase Tears: Prescription eyedrops increase production of tears, and nutritional supplements rich in omega-3 fatty acids can help in increasing tear production.
- Conserve Tears: In some cases, your optometrist may recommend blocking the tear ducts to keep natural tears in your eyes longer. This is done by blocking the ducts with tiny silicone or gel-like plugs that can be removed. Tear ducts also may be permanently closed with surgery. In either case, this slows drainage and the loss of tears.
- Treat Inflammation: Prescription eyedrops or ointments, warm compresses and lid massage, or eyelid cleaners help decrease inflammation.
What Women Need to Know
Aging plays a big role in developing dry eye. Your body produces 60 percent less oil when you turn 65 than at age 18. Studies further show that women face even more problems as they tend to have drier skin than men. Less oil to seal the eyes watery layer leads to faster evaporation of tears and dry areas on the cornea. Part of this comes from hormonal changes in women during pregnancy and menopause, as well as from the use of oral contraceptives. The occurrence of dry eye in women increases in menopause.
But theres help in the form of nutrients from food. Researchers at both Harvard and Brigham and Womens Hospital report that fish oils may help in preventing or treating the condition. Of the 32,000 women ages 45 to 84 in the Brigham Womens Health Study, nearly 5 percent reported problems with dry eyes. The study also reveals that those women who consumed the most omega-3 fats from fish had a 17 percent lower risk of suffering from dry eyes. Furthermore, women who consumed at least five to six servings of omega-3 PUFA-rich (long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids) tuna per week (serving defined as 4 oz.) compared with women who consumed one serving or less of tuna per week had a 68 percent lower prevalence of dry eye syndrome.
Eating healthy and working with an optometrist can help women address vision issues.
Benefits of Omega-3
Several studies have opened eyes to a simple, yet effective, treatment of dry eyes fish. As an example, the Womens Health Study conducted by the Harvard Medical School found that those women who ate more fish lowered their risk of dry eye.
A review of eight studies confirmed a relationship between the polyunsaturated fatty acids in fish and an improvement in dry eye syndrome.
Salmon, tuna, herring, mackerel and other cold-water fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids that may reduce inflammation, enhance tear production and support the eyes oily outer layer by increasing oil that flows from the meibomian glands.
In particular, these cold-water, fleshy fish provide two essential omega-3s EPA and DHA. Besides providing moisturizing benefits for eyes, these fatty acids provide more healthy benefits for your heart, as well as your immune and nervous systems.
Unfortunately, other studies show that nearly nine of 10 Americans fail to eat enough omega-2 fatty acids found in fish. Instead, diets rich in meat, oils such as corn oil, margarine and carbohydrates produce an inordinate amount of omega-6 fatty acids.
While certain omega-6 fatty acids like arachidonic acid are essential, there needs to be a balance. Instead, omega-6 consumption in the typical Western diet outweighs omega-3 acids by 16 times.
Scientists believe this imbalance leads to many inflammatory diseases and other chronic health problems. Certain types of omega-6 fatty acids block the absorption of omega-3 and promote inflammation. You need both fatty acids, but the ratio needs to be closer to 1:1.
How much fish should you eat? The American Heart Association recommends at least two servings a week. Research continues to determine the optimal servings to maintain healthy eyes or to improve the conditions related to dry eyes.
Foods with DHA/EPA
Nothing Fishy About Supplements
Dont like Fish? Perhaps you just dont want to eat fish three to five times a week. Maybe you are a vegetarian. Maybe you are concerned that fish contains mercury and other environmental toxins. There are options available through nutritional supplements that your eye doctor can recommend.
Fish oil capsules provide the necessary omega-3 fatty acids to help prevent or ease the symptoms of dry eye. A recent study published by the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center showed that 21 patients with dry eye who received a daily dose of fish oil and flaxseed oil saw a dramatic 54 percent increase in tear flow rate. Additionally, seven out of 10 patients in the group that used the supplements did not have any symptoms of dry eye.
Its important to note that not all omega-3 fats are considered equal. Those omega-3 fats found in flaxseed and nuts are short-chain omega-3 fatty acids as opposed to long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids DHA and EPA. As such, these omega-3 fats generally require higher doses to equal those found in fish oils or fish. Your body converts only about 6 percent of the short-chain omega-3 fatty acids to the longer-chain EPA and perhaps even less to DHA. Thus it may be difficult to achieve the higher levels of EPA and DHA needed from these vegetable sources alone.
As with any nutritional supplement, though, its best to consult with your physician and eye doctor. If you take any prescriptions or over-the-counter medicines, your health care team can ensure that you wont experience adverse drug interactions. This is especially important if you take blood thinners even aspirin. Fish oils taken in higher amounts may increase the risk of bleeding and reduce blood clotting. Long-term use of these oils may lead to a vitamin E deficiency as well. Your optometrist and physician may advise use of fish oils with vitamin E or suggest you take a multiple vitamin with your nutritional supplement.
Healthy Eating, Healthy Eyes
As the saying goes, you are what you eat. Nutrition plays a big role in your health, including your vision. Eating healthy by adding the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and nutritional supplements can play a role in preventing or easing the discomfort of dry eye.Improve your eye and overall health by following these guidelines:
- Eat a balanced, nutritious diet that includes fish or nutritional supplements recommended by your eye doctor.
- Wear sunglasses and a hat when in sunlight or in dry, windy conditions.
- Follow your eye doctors instructions carefully if you experience problems.
- Work with your physician and eye doctor to coordinate your care and optimize your health.
Your eye doctor knows that good vision requires good care of your body. Invest in your eye health and your vision by scheduling comprehensive eye exams with your doctor of optometry, the expert in eye and vision care.
(This information was provided by the American Optometric Association, call the office at 330-745-4404 to request a free copy of Healthy Eating-Healthy Eyes )