Which Foods Help With Dry Eye Syndrome?

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

Dry eye is a chronic condition in which the body doesn't produce enough tears (or the tears it produces aren't of good enough quality) to lubricate the eyes. If you have dry eye syndrome, you may experience irritation, itching, redness, and pain.

This condition is uncomfortable and can interfere with your quality of life. There are treatment options available, such as eye drops, but many people seek out additional ways to help keep their eyes moisturized.

Some research suggests that consuming certain nutrients can reduce inflammation and stimulate tear production, which may help to reduce dry eye symptoms. However, it's important to note that food is not a replacement for other medical treatments, such as eye drops or ointments.

This article will look at the foods that are research-backed to support the management of dry eye symptoms.

Man rubbing his eyes

Nes / E+ / Getty Images

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

There's some limited evidence that increasing your intake of omega-3 fatty acids may help to relieve dry eye symptoms. Omega-3 fatty acids are known to help reduce inflammation in the body. Some research also suggests that omega-3s can help increase tear production and improve tear quality.

One recent meta-analysis of 17 clinical trials concluded that supplementing with omega-3s helped reduce dry eye symptoms and improve tear quality more effectively than a placebo.

Another study found that dry eye patients given an omega-3 supplement twice daily for 30 days showed significant reductions in tear evaporation and increased tear production.

Omega-3s are available as supplements or found naturally in foods such as:

  • Fatty fish like trout, salmon, sardines, and mackerel
  • Walnuts
  • Flaxseed
  • Chia seeds
  • Seaweed and algae

Caffeine

Caffeine is a stimulant that is usually associated with feeling more alert. It is found naturally in coffee, black tea, and green tea.

Caffeine is known to have a mild diuretic effect (meaning it may trigger the need to urinate). While this may seem like it would be dehydrating, recent research suggests that caffeine may also help stimulate tear production, which may help reduce dry eye symptoms.

In fact, one review found that increased caffeine consumption was associated with a reduced risk of developing dry eye disease.

Antioxidants

Antioxidants help to protect cells from damage caused by oxidation and free radicals. In addition to protecting your eyes from damage, research suggests that antioxidants help to improve tear production and reduce dry eye symptoms.

Here are some antioxidants (and the foods in which they are found) that may help with dry eye symptoms:

Vitamin C

Vitamin C, also called ascorbic acid, is a water-soluble vitamin that helps protect cells and maintain healthy skin, blood vessels, and bones. Foods high in vitamin C include:

  • Broccoli
  • Bell peppers
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Tomatoes
  • Citrus fruits

The tear film layer that protects and lubricates the eyes contains vitamin C. Vitamin C helps protect the eyes from pollution and other compounds. Research shows that vitamin C production helps to improve tear production.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is a fat-soluble antioxidant that supports many functions in the body. It’s found in oils like sunflower oil, safflower oil, and soybean oil, as well as in almonds, peanuts, pumpkin, and spinach.

One important benefit of vitamin E is its protective effects on the eyes. It helps protect the retina from injury and supports the maintenance of the tear film layer.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is essential for eye health. A deficiency in vitamin A can lead to night blindness and dry eye syndrome. However, deficiencies are uncommon in developed countries, because it’s available in many foods like:

  • Eggs
  • Pumpkin
  • Squash
  • Carrots
  • Tuna
  • Salmon
  • Dairy and cheese

Consuming foods rich in vitamin A (or taking a multivitamin with the nutrient) may help reduce dry eye disease symptoms and improve tear quality.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is another fat-soluble vitamin. It’s unique because it can be created in the body after being exposed to sunlight. In climates where there is less sun exposure during winter months or if people consistently wear sunscreen to protect from sun damage, deficiencies can occur.

Studies have found that low levels of vitamin D are correlated with an increased risk of dry eye. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with worse dry symptoms and reduced tear production. Increasing vitamin D intake may help improve dry eye symptoms.

There are a few food sources of vitamin D (such as fatty fish, fortified milk and other dairy products, and mushrooms), but it’s challenging to meet your vitamin D needs through diet.

The best way to get vitamin D is to spend 10 to 15 minutes in the sun each day. If you’re in an area with less sunlight, it may be beneficial to take a vitamin D supplement.

Zeaxanthin and Lutein

Zeaxanthin and lutein are two antioxidants that are present in high amounts in the retina. They help to protect the eye from damaging ultraviolet (UV) light and other free radicals. Research suggests that a higher intake of zeaxanthin and lutein may reduce the risk of eye diseases, including dry eye.

Foods high in zeaxanthin and lutein include:

  • Dark leafy greens
  • Summer squash
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Broccoli
  • Asparagus
  • Lettuce
  • Grapes
  • Kiwi
  • Tomatoes
  • Egg yolks

Foods to Avoid

Some foods negatively impact your eye health by increasing inflammation, which may contribute to dry eye symptoms. Foods to avoid include:

  • Refined grains
  • Fried foods
  • Juices and sodas
  • Fast food
  • Processed meats
  • Breads and pastas
  • Sugary foods

Summary

Nutrition can have an impact on the severity of dry eye syndrome. Research suggests that eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids (such as salmon, tuna, and sardines) and antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables may have beneficial effects on tear production and tear quality.

A Word From Verywell

Your diet and lifestyle may play a role in managing dry eye symptoms. However, your diet isn’t a replacement for medical treatments. If you have chronic dry eye symptoms, it's important to see your healthcare provider. They can help you determine what's causing your symptoms and come up with the best treatment plan.

Still, the foods you eat can support your treatment plan. Filling up on a diet rich in omega-3s and antioxidant-packed fruits and vegetables may help reduce dry eye symptoms, as well as protect your overall eye health.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes dry eye?

    Dry eyes can be caused by many different factors, including hormone changes, inflammation, allergies, autoimmune diseases, age, failure to blink regularly, thyroid conditions, and nutrient deficiencies.

  • What does dry eye look like?

    Dry eyes may lose their glossy and reflective appearance from the loss of the tear film. They may also appear red, irritated, and swollen.

  • How long does dry eye last?

    Dry eyes can be a short-term condition lasting only a few days or they can be a chronic problem. The cause of your symptoms will affect how long the symptoms last.

  • Can you get dry eye in just one eye?

    It’s more common to have it in both eyes, but it’s possible to get dry eye in just one eye.

Was this page helpful?
10 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Giannaccare G, Pellegrini M, Sebastiani S, et al. Efficacy of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation for treatment of dry eye disease: a meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. Cornea. 2019;38(5):565-573. doi: 10.1097/ICO.0000000000001884

  2. Kangari H, Eftekhari MH, Sardari S, et al. Short-term consumption of oral omega-3 and dry eye syndromeOphthalmology. 2013;120(11):2191-2196. doi:10.1016/j.ophtha.2013.04.006

  3. Osei KA, Ovenseri-Ogbomo G, Kyei S, Ntodie M. The effect of caffeine on tear secretionOptom Vis Sci. 2014;91(2):171-177. doi:10.1097/OPX.0000000000000129

  4. Arita R, Yanagi Y, Honda N, et al. Caffeine increases tear volume depending on polymorphisms within the adenosine A2a receptor gene and cytochrome P450 1A2Ophthalmology. 2012;119(5):972-978. doi:10.1016/j.ophtha.2011.11.033

  5. Wang MTM, Muntz A, Mamidi B, Wolffsohn JS, Craig JP. Modifiable lifestyle risk factors for dry eye disease [published online ahead of print, 2021 Jan 21]. Cont Lens Anterior Eye. 2021;101409. doi:10.1016/j.clae.2021.01.004

  6. McCusker MM, Durrani K, Payette MJ, Suchecki J. An eye on nutrition: The role of vitamins, essential fatty acids, and antioxidants in age-related macular degeneration, dry eye syndrome, and cataract. Clin Dermatol. 2016;34(2):276-285. doi: 10.1016/j.clindermatol.2015.11.009

  7. Pellegrini M, Senni C, Bernabei F, et al. The role of nutrition and nutritional supplements in ocular surface diseases. Nutrients. 2020;12(4):952. doi: 10.3390/nu12040952

  8. Huang J-Y, Yeh P-T, Hou Y-C. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of oral antioxidant supplement therapy in patients with dry eye syndrome. Clin Ophthalmol. 2016;10:813-820. doi: 10.2147/OPTH.S106455

  9. Liu J, Dong Y, Wang Y. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with dry eye syndrome: a systematic review and meta-analysisActa Ophthalmol. 2020;98(8):749-754. doi:10.1111/aos.14470

  10. Yang S-F, Roberts JE, Liu Q, Pang J, Sarna T. Zeaxanthin and lutein in the management of eye diseases. J Ophthalmol. 2016;2016:4915916. doi: 10.1155/2016/4915916