Eyedrops called artificial tears are similar to your own tears. They lubricate the eyes and help maintain moisture. Artificial tears are available without a prescription. There are many brands on the market, so you may want to try several to find the one you like best.
Preservative-free eyedrops are available for people who are sensitive to the preservatives in artificial tears. If you need to use artificial tears more than every two hours, preservative-free brands may be better for you.
You can use the artificial tears as often as necessary — once or twice a day or as often as several times an hour.
Conserving your tears
Conserving your eyes' own tears is another approach to keeping the eyes moist. Tears drain out of the eye through a small channel into the nose (which is why your nose runs when you cry). Your ophthalmologist may close these channels either temporarily or permanently. This method conserves your own tears and makes artificial tears last longer.
A temporary method of closing the channels may involve the use of punctal plugs. The plugs are inserted into the punctum (tear duct) and work much like a dam by blocking your eye's drainage system. Your Eye M.D. may also choose to permanently close your tear ducts by using heat to seal the puncta closed.
Tears evaporate like any other liquid. You can take steps to prevent evaporation. In winter, when indoor heating is in use, a humidifier or a pan of water on the radiator adds moisture to dry air. Wraparound glasses may reduce the drying effect of the wind.
A person with dry eye should avoid anything that may cause dryness, such as an overly warm room, hair dryers or wind. Smoking is especially bothersome.
Some people may find dry-eye relief by supplementing their diet with omega-3 fatty acids, which are found naturally in foods like oily fish (salmon, sardines, anchovies) and flax seeds. Ask your Eye M.D. if you should take supplements of omega-3 fatty acids and, if so, in what form and dosage.
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.
Dry eye due to lack of vitamin A in the diet is rare in the United States but is more common in poorer countries, especially among children. Ointments containing vitamin A can help dry eye if it is caused by unusual conditions such as Stevens-Johnson syndrome or pemphigoid. Vitamin A supplements do not seem to help people with ordinary dry eye.
If you are bothered by dry eye, talk with your Eye M.D. for ways to find relief.