THE BLOG
09/27/2012 12:04 pm ET | Updated Nov 27, 2012

The ABCs of Dry Eye Nutrition

DISCLAIMER: The following reflects my personal experience. Please consult your doctor before starting a new protocol for treating Dry Eye Syndrome. Excessive use of fish oil can lead to clotting and other adverse reactions. Before running to the store, consult a licensed M.D. to find out what is best for you and about proper dosage of medication/supplements. I am not a doctor or nurse. I am a dry eye sufferer and supporter of others in the same uncomfortable situation.

When it comes to treating dry eyes, it's about more than just drops. I can honestly tell you that, as someone whose left eye is dry minutes after inserting drops. Ophthalmologists and women's magazines will suggest taking natural supplements such as fish oil, flax seed oil and vitamin E -- a combination can be found in TheraTears Nutrition capsules with Omega3. It is also recommended to drink lots of water and stay hydrated throughout the day, and we all know that a good night of sleep is important too -- we're all too familiar with that gritty, headachy, day-after-the-party dryness. And when it comes to alcohol, the recommendation is to go easy on it -- it will dehydrate you in the same way that too much caffeine will. You may get headaches in the area of your dry eye, as I do quite often near my left eye. If you must drink (either vino or that Extra Bold Sumatran Reserve morning cup of joe), drink water before, after and during.

Above are just a handful of tips for the typical dry eye sufferer, but most dry eyes sufferers are atypical, and I include myself in that category.

So, I'll let you in on my current routine, and I would love to hear from folks about their own routines. I'll list my present protocol in an alphabetical sequence:

Air -- Keep that humidifier going. In my house, we have a cold air humidifier, which is the best option when there are kids in the home.

Antioxidants -- Dry eye can also be caused by free radical damage (oxidative stress) in the body caused by aging, poor diet, lack of exercise, and unhealthy lifestyle factors such as smoking, excess alcohol, medications and chronic stress. Healthful foods rich in antioxidants may help slow down the process of oxidation. Antioxidants are easily obtained from eating a diet abundant in fruits and multicolored vegetables, especially the dark, leafy green plants such as kale, spinach and chard. Some of the most antioxidant-rich fruits include acai berry, goji berry, acerola cherries and all other tart berries. (Source: Livestrong.com, read more: http://www.livestrong.com/article/80865-foods-dry-eyes/#ixzz15Tm771J3)

Babies and Breastfeeding -- I've finished having babies and I've finished breastfeeding, but please bear in mind that both can affect dry eye. Hormones do strange things. You may find that your eyes are less dry during pregnancy and drier during breastfeeding, or vise versa. You may have to use more drops during these times (I did) and you will probably have to change your diet. Foods like salmon that are high in omega-3 fatty acids can really help with dry eye during these periods, but I'll get to that shortly.

Computer Usage -- The computer will dry the hell out of your eyes. So keep computer usage to a minimum if you can. I can't seem to, but when I do take a rare break, I notice a significant improvement.

Crying -- Sometimes it helps me to have a good cry, watch a touching film or read a sad novel. While the watching and the reading may dry your eyes out further, your own tears are the best and most natural lubricant!

Drops, Drops, Drops -- Every hour to half an hour I put in Systane Ultra or Blink Gel Tears (I've found the latter to be better) and in between I use something lighter and more natural, specifically preservative free vials like Refresh all-natural tears.

Exercise -- It's good for you and will keep the oxidative stress at bay, plus you'll forget about your eyes while you're busy doing it!

Eye Ointment -- Yes, there's actually a mineral-oil based ointment for dry eye that you're supposed to apply at night, but sometimes I actually use it during the day. That's how bad my situation is! These ointments (e.g., Systane PM, Refresh PM) really alleviate the dry eye symptoms, but you don't want to have eye makeup on while it's in your eye. Most irritating to dry eye is when eye makeup gets into it!

E, the vitamin -- When taking fish oil supplements for dry eye, it's recommended that you also take vitamin E. Long term usage of fish oil may deplete you of vitamin E, so it's best to be on the safe side.

Evening Primrose Oil -- This helped bring me into labor with my first son, but I've also heard that some use it as a natural remedy for dry eye. I don't take it yet, but I am curious to find out more. If it brought me into labor (at 40 weeks, I was also ready!), it must be pretty powerful. But that also scares me. I've read conflicting reports about EPO for dry eyes. If any ophthalmologists have information on EPO as a remedy, please let me know.

Fish -- As gross as this may sound to you, I try to eat sardines as often as possible because the fish is rich in omega-3s. Salmon is an even better choice. Added bonus: Your skin will glow.

Flax Seed -- Fish oil is supposedly more effective in alleviating dry eye than flax seed oil, but I say it can't hurt to eat some ground flax seed in your morning cereal or yogurt of use the pure highest lignan oil in your cooking.

Green Tea -- This antioxidant-rich tea has an acquired taste, so I recommend starting with one that has a lighter flavor and working your way up to the strong organic variety. We know of the benefits of green tea so why not drink it anyway? Besides, a 2010 study suggests that drinking it could protect your eyes. In the study, published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, researchers fed laboratory rats green tea extract and then analyzed their eye tissues. The results showed that different parts of the eye absorbed varying amounts of catechins from the green tea. Further studies, however, will be needed to confirm that same protective effect in humans.

Lovaza -- Lovaza is a prescription-strength fish oil that my doctor recommended. So far, I'm not noticing much of a difference and I've been taking Lovaza for more than two months. Remember, I had an eye injury that caused nerve damage to the eye and that is why I have dry eye. Just because Lovaza may not be working for me doesn't mean that it won't work for you. Ask your doctor about it.

Makeup -- I'll have an upcoming post on this in which I quote makeup artists and their recommendations, so stay tuned for that. In the interim, use hypoallergenic and opthalmologist-tested products. Try to use cream eye shadow instead of powder and for those who truly, truly suffer, keep your eye area clear as often as possible! I only apply eye makeup for special occasions.

Medicines -- Be aware that certain medications such as antihistamines, sleeping aids, antidepressants and certain birth controls can exacerbate dry eye symptoms. I've noticed that Benadryl does it to me!

Potassium -- Potassium is usually very low in patients with dry eye, according to Dr. Marc Grossman, who was quoted in an article on LiveStrong.com (http://www.livestrong.com/article/80865-foods-dry-eyes/). The best food sources of potassium include kelp, dulse, wheat germ, almonds, pecans, bananas, raisins, dates, figs and avocados. I happen to love Mejool dates and I'm cool with bananas, so I try to incorporate them into my diet.

Punctal Plugs -- Punctal plugs are small devices that fit into the tear duct of the eye. The plug is designed to block the duct and prevent liquid draining from the eye to the nose. Again, I'm not sure that MINE is making a difference. I'd love to hear if any of you have had success with punctal plugs.

Restasis -- This prescription-strength eye drop's main ingredient is a scary one: cyclosporine. It's scary because it is an immunosuppressant drug that has been used in relation to organ transplants to prevent rejection, but alas, now we're putting it in our eye. It has been shown to increase tear production after long term use -- for some, "long term" may mean after six months! In the short term, it can add to your immediate eye dryness (and guess who's experiencing that now)?

Salmon and Superfoods -- Salmon is a superfood, as I mentioned above. After I eat an ample serving of the omega-rich fish, my dry eye situation feels improved and I don't think it's psychological. Of course, other superfoods would include those rich in antioxidants as mentioned above. I've also noticed that after using olive oil (just like with flax seed oil) in my cooking, my eyes feel less dry.

Sunglasses -- My friends like to make fun of me for wearing sunglasses on days when it's not really sunny outside, but I need to protect my eyes from glare. I feel that wearing sunglasses really makes a difference and when I leave home without them, the sun and the glare seem to attack my eyes.

TheraTears Nutrition -- As previously mentioned, I tried taking this before switching to Lovaza. I'm really not sure if it makes much of a difference, but I did notice a minor improvement after I had been taking the caplets for a few days.

Water -- I cannot stress enough the importance of drinking H2O throughout the day!

Zinc -- Zinc is a factor in the metabolic function of several enzymes in the vascular coating of the eye, according to "Prescription for Nutritional Healing." A few good food sources of zinc include brewer's yeast, fish, kelp, legumes, liver, mushrooms, sunflower seeds and whole grains. (Read more: http://www.livestrong.com/article/80865-foods-dry-eyes/#ixzz15TmYRYHI).

So, there you go -- the ABCs of my dry eye routine. I am always on the lookout for new tips and tricks, so feel free to email or tweet me about what has helped you!

For more by Shira Hirschman Weiss, click here.

For more on personal health, click here.

Subscribe to the Lifestyle email.
Life hacks and juicy stories to get you through the week.