Sam Berne, OD, a holistic optometrist, says if you're feeling scratchiness, stinging, burning, redness, light sensitivity, eye fatigue or strain, or discomfort when wearing contacts...chances are you've got a case of dry eyes. Hooray!
According to Dr. Berne, one of primary causes of dry eyes is—wait for it—inflammation (because of course it is). “One of the most common, yet largely preventable, causes of dry eye is chronic inflammation near the eyelashes or in the tear glands,” Dr. Berne says. “This inflammation interferes with the production of tear film that covers the cornea and keeps the eyes moisturized.”
Another common cause of dry eyes: digital eye strain, where your eyes spend so much time staring at screens that they develop issues like dryness, blurred vision, and headaches. And women are apparently more sensitive to it than men (great!). Other lifestyle factors that can cause dry eyes include smoking, poor sleep, and bad dietary habits, adds Dr. Berne.
Dr. Berne adds that certain OTC drugs can also cause dry eyes, including antihistamines, birth control pills, and blood pressure medications. And he says people who have diabetes, thyroid disease, Sjogren’s syndrome, asthma, hormonal imbalances, and glaucoma have a risk of experiencing dry eyes—although he adds that research in this area does not necessarily support causation, just a correlation.
If these symptoms sound painfully familiar and have been going on for longer than a week, Dr. Berne recommends finding a practitioner who can help you address the underlying causes of dry eyes. And there are a number of home remedies for dry eyes you can try to get relief while simultaneously addressing the underlying causes (score!).
1. Use the right kind of eyedrops
Eyedrops can be a great temporary fix for dry eyes, but with some caveats. Dr. Berne warns that “redness relief” drops contain vasoconstrictors, which constrict blood vessels in the eye to make them less red and should only be used sparingly. He also recommends not relying solely on “artificial tears,” which could reduce symptoms but don’t necessarily address any of the above-mentioned root cause of dry eyes. Instead, he suggests MSM eye drops, which contain sulfur (a mineral that has shown promise in reducing inflammation) to address the underlying cause of your dry eyes while also helping your eyeballs feel ah-mazing (just check with your doctor before you make an investment).
2. Implement healthy “digital hygiene” practices
Remember how I said that digital eye strain is a big cause of dry eyes? There's something you can do to fix that (beyond just like, quitting your job and throwing away your phone). Dr. Berne suggests practicing the 20-20-20 rule when using digital devices: Every 20 minutes, look 20 feet away for about 20 seconds. This technique is thought to reduce eye strain, a big driver of dry eyes (plus, it will ensure you take a break to blink and re-moisturize your eyes). And Dr. Berne recommends wearing blue-light blocking glasses when using digital devices, since blue light is another big cause of eye strain (and thus, dryness).
3. Tweak your diet
This won't be an immediate fix, but Dr. Berne recommends making small changes to your diet in order to fight inflammation (and subsequently, fight one of the biggest causes of dry eyes). He suggests eating more antioxidant-rich foods like leafy greens and citrus fruits in order to reap their anti-inflammatory benefits, as well as upping your consumption of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids (hello, Mediterranean diet!).
He also suggests eating gut-healthy pre- and probiotics. “The importance of the gut in protecting against and improving chronic disease is well-documented,” says Dr. Berne. “In terms of the eyes, having a healthy gut is key for enhancing nutrient absorption, which directly influences eye health.”
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