Complementary and Alternative Therapies for Chronic Dry Eye
Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last updated: July 2022
Chronic dry eye is a disorder caused and made worse by many different factors. A variety of drugs and treatments are available, but the condition does not have a cure. One approach to treatment may include complementary and alternative therapies.
Complementary and alternative medicines are not scientifically proven to work for any particular medical condition, and none of them are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Complementary therapies may have potential benefits. However, they may also have unintended health consequences, some of which may be serious and irreversible. Always talk to your doctor before beginning any alternative therapy so you are making a well-informed decision about your healthcare.
Some complementary and alternative therapies that have been described for managing chronic dry eye are mentioned below.
Omega 3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are found in foods like fish and flaxseed, as well as dietary supplements like fish oil. The 3 main fatty acids are ALA, EPA, and DHA.1
Omega-3 fatty acids are considered anti-inflammatory. However, research is conflicted on whether Omega-3 fatty acids help dry eye. Some studies have shown that people on omega-3 supplements have improvements in their signs and symptoms of dry eye compared to those not taking the supplements. Additional studies have also shown that oral omega-3 supplements may protect the nerves in the eye from damage.2-7
Omega-3 fatty acids dietary supplements may be used to decrease inflammation on the surface of the eye in those with chronic dry eye. The majority of studies to date have researched these supplements only when taken by mouth. Eye drops that deliver fatty acids directly to the surface of the eye may lead to decreased inflammation, though more studies may be needed to prove this.8
Castor oil eye drops
Castor oil comes from a plant that has a long history of therapeutic use. Castor oil has been shown to safely decrease pain and inflammation in some conditions. Castor oil may be useful in improving the stability of the tear film and improving the oil (lipid) layer of the tears. This may help keep the tears from evaporating too quickly, leading to dry eyes.9
Like other complementary therapies, the use of castor oil as an eye drop has not been studied extensively. Only relatively short treatment periods have been researched, and more studies are needed to prove its effectiveness and safety in the treatment of chronic dry eye.9
Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medicine treatment method. Acupuncture involves the insertion of very thin needles through your skin at certain points on your body. This technique is thought to balance the flow of energy or life force, known as chi or qi (chee). Qi is thought to flow through pathways (meridians) in your body.10
Acupuncture may promote tear secretion and improve dry eyes when combined with other traditional therapies.11
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a chemical found in the cannabis plant. It does not make users “high”, and it has been used for other applications. CBD may be taken in many forms, such as an oil or infused into food, skin creams, and even gummies.12
It is important to note that research has not supported the use of CBD for eye problems, such as chronic dry eye. CBD may have health benefits, but it is important to talk to your doctor first. Dosing, quality, and how CBD is manufactured are important and should be discussed with your doctor before taking CBD.12
Ayurveda is an ancient holistic and natural approach to medicine. Ayurveda includes compounds of natural herbs and plants. This approach also focuses on diet, exercise, and lifestyle.13
According to Ayurveda, dry eye is not simply a disorder of the eye. Rather, chronic dry eye happens as a result of other issues of the body tissues. This holistic approach to treating dry eye may be beneficial. However, there are not many studies supporting this treatment.14
Various studies have shown that coconut oil may be useful as a rewetting agent for dry eyes. However, these studies have been limited to animal studies. Further research is needed to determine if this therapy is safe and effective in people.15
Natural and complementary therapies may be an option for relieving your dry eye symptoms. It is important to talk to your doctor about these before using them. Some treatments or therapies may not be right for you. Your doctor will give you advice on options that may help treat your dry eye symptoms.
Before beginning treatment for chronic dry eye, tell your doctor about all your health conditions and any other drugs, vitamins, or supplements you are taking. This includes over-the-counter drugs.