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  • Can Fish Oil Relieve Dry Eye?

    Reviewed By Rebecca J Taylor, MD
    Published Feb. 13, 2024

    Our eyes need a healthy coating of tears. Without this lubrication, our eyes become red, scratchy and irritable. This can lead to a condition called dry eye.

    Dry eye becomes more common with age. Some women develop dry eye during menopause, due to hormonal changes. Other people develop dry eye from living in a windy, dry environment or working in a building with constant air condition. Exposure to sun, tobacco smoke or cold or allergy medicines can also lead to dry eye.

    Can fish oil supplements treat dry eye?

    While artificial tears and ointments are the most common treatments for dry eye, some patients have heard the outdated advice that omega-3 fatty acids may also help. There's no strong evidence that this is true, unfortunately.

    Omega-3s are available in capsule form as fish oil supplements. It was previously thought that fish oil supplements might help alleviate dry eye. But a 2018 study of more than 500 people found that capsules containing fish oil supplements did not improve dry eye symptoms. Fish oil supplements are not standardized — different brands vary in content and quality — so it can be difficult to draw conclusions about their benefits. Overall, however, fish oil supplements do not appear to benefit patients with dry eye.

    Will a diet rich in omega 3 fatty acids benefit the eyes?

    Omega-3s can be consumed naturally by eating salmon, sardines, herring, tuna, menhaden or cod liver. It's unclear if dietary sources of omega-3 fats are beneficial for dry eye or other eye conditions.

    One survey found that women who reported consuming the most omega-3 fats from fish had a lower risk of dry eye compared with women who ate little or no seafood. But because the survey relied on self-reported information, which can be unreliable, the link between diet and dry eye remains uncertain.

    Ask your ophthalmologist about dry eye treatment options based on your eye and overall health. A diet rich in these fatty acids may be beneficial for other health reasons.