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  • Can Fish Oil Relieve Dry Eye?

    Reviewed By Rebecca J Taylor, MD
    May. 15, 2023

    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.

    What are the benefits of omega 3 fatty acids?

    While artificial tears and ointments are the most common treatments for dry eye, some patients find relief from consuming omega-3 fatty acids.

    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.

    It may be more helpful to consume omega-3 fats naturally by eating salmon, sardines, herring, tuna, menhaden or cod liver. Eating a diet rich in omega-3 fats may help lower the risk of dry eye, research shows. A sweeping study of 32,000 women found those who consumed the most omega-3 fats from fish had a 17% lower risk of dry eye compared with women who ate little or no seafood. 

    Diet rich in fish oil may reduce risk of dry eye

    Stephanie Marioneaux, MD, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, told The New York Times that the omega-3s in fish oil seem to reduce inflammation. If inflammation of the eyelids or surfaces of the eye worsens dry eye, it makes sense that a supplement could help the problem. "Dry eye is pretty complex, and there is no cure,” she said. “Treating the inflammation, however, can improve some of the symptoms."

    Omega-3 oils also appear to improve function in the eye’s meibomian glands, which produce the oily part of tears. Improved function of those glands can ease dry eye symptoms.

    Patients with other eye diseases may benefit as well. Omega-3s may reduce growth of abnormal blood vessels that occur in age-related macular degeneration and other retinal diseases.

    Fish oil supplements versus consuming a diet rich in omega 3 fatty acids

    Some people prefer to consume omega-3 fatty acids by eating fish, while others prefer to swallow a fish oil capsule. Research suggests that a diet rich in omega 3 fatty acids may help reduce your risk of dry eye, whereas fish oil supplements are not very helpful in relieving dry eye symptoms.

    Ask your doctor if omega-3 supplements are right for you, based on your eye and overall health. If so, your doctor can help you select the best quality supplement from the many options available in stores.