Fish Oil Supplements for Dry Eyes: Study Finds They Might Not Help

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Recent research may have put the kibosh on the health claim that fish oil (omega-3) supplements are an effective treatment for dry eyes.

Over the years, some doctors and even the American Academy of Ophthalmology have recommended fatty fish or omega-3 supplements for dry eyes based largely on observational studies linking high dietary intake of omega-3 fats to reduced risk, small clinical trials on the supplements, and theories about how omega-3s might ease symptoms (for instance, by reducing inflammation).

But a well-designed, NIH-funded clinical trial in The New England Journal of Medicine called this into question. It involved 349 people with moderate to severe dry eyes not responding to other treatments, half of whom took 3,000 milligrams of omega-3 capsules a day, half a placebo (olive oil capsules). After a year, the two groups did not differ significantly in terms of various eye-related signs and symptoms. In fact, both groups had improvements, suggesting that, as in other clinical trials of treatments for dry eyes, the placebo effect was substantial, the researchers noted, and that in some people the condition simply gets better over time.

If you’re bothered by dry eyes, you may want to consider over-the-counter artificial tears, which come in liquid, gel or ointment form. Many people find that they are an effective solution to dryness because lubricating eyedrops that contain oil or lipids most resemble the human tear. The thicker the lubricant, the longer it stays in your eye. An ointment should be used only at bedtime since it blurs vision. Eyedrops can be used as needed to soothe eyes. However, if you find yourself using drops more than four to six times a day, you should see your ophthalmologist about other alternatives.