Study Backs Benefits of Omega-3s for Dry Eye Syndrome

May 27, 2013

By Anne Harding

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) May 27 - Taking oral omega-3 fatty acids for 30 days significantly reduces the symptoms of dry eye syndrome, a report online May 3 in Ophthalmology demonstrates.

Patients also had a decrease in the rate of tear evaporation and an increase in tear secretion, Dr. Haleh Kangari of Shahid Beheshti University of Medical Sciences in Tehran, Iran, and colleagues found.

Dry eye syndrome is extremely common, and can have a major impact on quality of life, Dr. Kangari and colleagues note. All available treatments have downsides; for example, relief from artificial tears is short-lived, while both autologous serum eye drop therapy and punctal plugs can lead to infection and other complications.

Several recent studies have found evidence that increasing dietary fatty acids can improve dry eye symptoms, although some used combinations of omega-3s and omega-6s. Given the potential of omega-6s to promote inflammation, Dr. Kangari and colleagues focused on omega-3s. They randomly assigned 64 patients to two capsules of omega-3s, each containing 180 mg eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and 120 mg docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), twice daily for 30 days, or placebo (medium-chain triglyceride oils).

The study's primary outcome was an increase in tear break-up time (TBUT), which is the amount of time it takes for dry spots to appear on the eye after a person blinks. At 30 days, TBUT had increased from a mean of 3.9 seconds to 5.67 seconds in the treatment group, versus 4.5 to 4.7 in the control group, representing a 71% improvement for patients on omega-3s and a 3.3% change for the controls (p<0.001).

Scores on the Ocular Surface Disease Index (OSDI), which measures dry eye symptoms and disability due to these symptoms, improved by 26% in the treatment group, and worsened by 4% in the control group (p=0.004). Schirmer's score, a measure of eye surface wetness, improved by 22.3% in the omega-3 group and 5.1% in the placebo group (p=0.033).

The study is one of the strongest so far to look at the effects of omega-3s on dry eye symptoms, Dr. Jimmy Lee, director of refractive surgery at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, told Reuters Health. While other studies have shown benefits, he added, "no one knew exactly how much dose was required and at what length of treatment. To see that it has an effect in as short as a month is very encouraging." Dr. Lee did not participate in the new study.

To get enough omega-3s to help reduce dry eye, Dr. Lee told Reuters Health, people should aim to eat fish two to three times a week. "The only reason I strongly encourage food sources rather than supplements is that in people with different medical conditions, high doses of omega 3s can cause the blood to get thin and increase the risk of bleeding."

The authors declared they had no relevant conflicts of interest.


Ophthalmology 2013.


Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.