Painful Peepers: How Can Dry Eyes Be Treated?

A woman holds an eye dropper full of liquid above her eye.
Dry eyes can be uncomfortable. (Image credit: Eye dropper photo via Shutterstock)

"The Healthy Geezer" answers questions about health and aging in his weekly column.

[Our last column was about what causes dry eyes. Today, we go over some treatments for the condition.]

Tears are necessary for overall eye health and clear vision. Dry eyes are common in people older than 50. A lack of tears is more common among women, especially after menopause.

The treatment for dry eyes depends upon the cause.

First, physicians have to determine if a disease is the underlying cause. Then the disease is treated.

If a medicine you're taking for another condition is causing dry eye, your doctor may recommend switching to a different drug.

If contact lenses are giving you dry eye, your eye care practitioner may recommend another type of lens, or reducing the number of hours you wear your lenses. [Eye Tricks: Gallery of Visual Illusions]

There are procedures by eyecare professionals to plug the drainage holes at the inner corners of the eyelids where tears drain from the eye into the nose. Lacrimal plugs, also called punctal plugs, can be inserted temporarily or permanently. In some cases, a surgery called punctal cautery is recommended to permanently close the drainage holes.

If other methods do not give you adequate dry eye relief, your ophthalmologist may suggest that you use a prescription medication. One such medication, cyclosporine, works by stimulating tear production.

Steroid eyedrops may also be used, but are generally not recommended for long-term treatment. Other treatment options may include ointments, gels and inserts.

Omega fatty acids may help relieve dry eyes symptoms. Omega fatty acids are available in foods and in supplements. Always talk to your doctor before taking any food supplements.

A new study published in the peer-reviewed journal Corneashowed that one nutritional supplement containing omega fatty acids improved dry-eye symptoms. The study, which included 38 post-menopausal women with tear dysfunction in both eyes, was conducted by Dr. Stephen Pflugfelder, of Baylor College of Medicine.

"Prior to this study, clinical evidence showing that nutritional supplements were beneficial in treating dry eye was scarce," Pflugfelder said. However, the new findings showed that after three months, the group treated with the supplement had less eye irritation, and no progression of their inflammation or cornea problems. In a control group of women, who took a placebo, dry eye symptoms worsened over the study period, he said.

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All rights reserved © 2013 by Fred Cicetti

Fred Cicetti is a contributing writer for Live Science who specializes in health. He has been writing professionally since 1963. Before he began freelancing, he was a reporter, rewriteman and columnist for three daily newspapers in New Jersey: The Newark News, Newark Star-Ledger and Morristown Record. He has written two published novels:" Saltwater Taffy—A Summer at the Jersey Shore," and "Local Angles—Big News in Small Towns."