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No Study Support for Fish Oil Soothing Dry Eyes

Although fish oil has a reputation for soothing dry eyes, a recent randomized controlled trial found that placebo capsules of olive oil worked just as well.

Fish oil is one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids. These compounds have anti-inflammatory activity, and doctors have hoped that fish oil supplements would prove useful against a wide range of chronic conditions, including heart disease and dementia. Sadly, most studies have failed to provide evidence that fish oil can work these miracles. Controlled trials have shown that fish oil doesn’t prevent heart rhythm abnormalities, postpartum depression, macular degeneration or cognitive decline. Some eye doctors still prescribe it for soothing dry eyes, however. How well does it work?

Is Fish Oil Good for Soothing Dry Eyes?

Q. My husband and I are taking cold-processed salmon oil, two pills a day, not for our hearts but for soothing dry eyes. We have both had cataract surgery and each of our doctors (an optometrist and an ophthalmologist) has recommended fish oil supplements. We also eat fish once or twice a week. Are there any studies on omega-3s and dry eyes?

The DREAM Study:

A. A recent study showed that fish oil supplements were no more effective than placebo for easing dry eye symptoms. The research was published online in The New England Journal of Medicine on April 13, 2018. The study was named the DRy Eye Assessment And Management trial (DREAM), but it was not a dream come true.

The scientists assigned more than 500 people with dry eye disease either 3,000 mg fish oil or olive oil as a look-alike placebo. Their eyes were assessed before the study started and after six months and a year. There was no difference between the groups on a number of objective measures of dry eye disease. Both groups improved significantly. As a result, it is impossible to conclude that fish oil was helpful in soothing dry eyes.

Soothing Dry Eyes:

If you are happy with the results you are getting taking fish oil on your doctors’ recommendations, we don’t see a good reason to change. But eye doctors may be less enthusiastic about this approach after they have read this report.

One very important–and inexpensive–tactic for soothing dry eyes is to blink frequently, especially when reading from a computer screen. People looking at a screen tend not to blink as often as they do when looking elsewhere.

Another simple approach to soothing dry eyes is to use a warm compress. Some people find this inexpensive tactic very helpful.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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