A bottle of Omega-3 fish oil with a dropper.

Do Omega-3 Fatty Acids Help Relieve Dry Eye Symptoms?

Our eyes need a healthy coating of tears. Without it, our eyes become dry, scratchy, and painful. Over time, this can lead to chronic dry eye.1

Over-the-counter and prescription ointments and artificial tears ease these symptoms for some people. However, many people still wonder if natural options like omega-3 fatty acids may also improve their symptoms of chronic dry eye.1

What are the symptoms of chronic dry eye?

Dry eye is a chronic illness marked by a lack of effective moisture in the eyes. The level of liquid or tears in the eyes may dwindle, and new tears may not form. Or, the tears that exist may not function the right way. Normally, tears cleanse the eyes of dirt, germs, and other harmful matter.1

The most common symptoms of dry eye often affect quality of life. The eyes may burn, itch, prickle, and turn red. Light from the sun may strain the eyes. This condition can also distort what a person sees and harm parts of the eye.1

What are omega-3 fatty acids?

Omega-3 fatty acids help brain function and cell growth. They are involved in keeping our hearts and blood vessels healthy. They may also help reduce inflammation. Our bodies do not make omega-3 fatty acids naturally. Instead, we get them from our diet or supplements.2,3

You can get omega-3 fatty acids by eating a variety of food, including:3

  • Fish and other seafood, especially cold-water fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and sardines
  • Nuts and seeds like flaxseed, chia seeds, and walnuts
  • Plant oils like flaxseed oil, soybean oil, and canola oil
  • Fortified foods like certain brands of yogurt, milk, eggs, and juices

Omega-3 dietary supplements come in a variety of doses and forms. They include:3

  • Fish oil
  • Krill oil
  • Cod liver oil
  • Algal oil

The use of omega-3 fatty acids for dry eye

Some research points to value in using omega-3 fatty acids for dry eye relief, while other research shows little to no benefit.

Research has shown that omega-3 fatty acids can lessen inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation plays a big role in diseases like autoimmune conditions. Many people with autoimmune conditions also have chronic dry eye. Taking something like omega-3 fatty acids to lower inflamed tissues may relieve symptoms of dry eye as well.4,5

A 2005 study of 32,470 women showed a lower rate of dry eye in those who ate more omega-3 fatty acids. The occurrence of dry eye was 68 percent less in those who ate 4 ounces of fish 5 or more times a week. The doctors leading the study observed a much lower rate of dry eye in those who ate tuna.5

A report on the biggest study thus far on the use of omega-3 fatty acids for chronic dry eye came out in 2018. The Dry Eye Assessment and Management (DREAM) Research Group led this study. The group found that omega-3 fatty acids did not offer greater benefits than the olive oil used as a control. But overall, the people’s symptoms did get notably better, whether they received omega-3 fatty acids or olive oil. What all led to improved symptoms was not clear.6

Should I take them?

Your doctor can help you think through all the treatment options for your chronic dry eye. Although the debate on the usefulness of omega-3 fatty acids continues, you may still want to see if they would help you.

It is important to note that there are no standard doses for omega-3 dietary supplements. Some omega-3 supplements, including fish oil, may interact with certain medicines. People who are allergic to fish may also have a reaction to some omega-3 supplements.2,3

Before taking any omega-3 supplements, talk with your doctor. They can make sure the supplements are safe for you and help you find the right dose. The best source for advice on treating chronic dry eye is your doctor.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The ChronicDryEye.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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