Can omega-3 fatty acids alleviate dry eye disease symptoms?

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In a recent study published in the NEJM, researchers examined the effect of high doses of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation on dry eye disease.

Dry eye disease occurs when the eyes do not produce enough tears to maintain lubrication or when there is an excess of tear evaporation. Tear evaporation can occur from external factors such as overexposure to screens, reading, and completing paperwork, which require continuous focus and leave the eyes dry. Sometimes, ageing and autoimmune diseases may also contribute to eye disease.

Some of the symptoms of dry eyes are irritation, burning, redness, and sometimes pain and blurred vision. These symptoms can be devastating and may cause serious discomfort to the patient.

Dry eye disease is often treated with artificial tears, but researchers are now investigating whether omega-3 fatty acid supplements can alleviate the symptoms since omega-3 has anti-inflammatory properties.

In a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the researchers conducted a multi-centre, double-blind clinical trial in the United States. The researchers included a total of 535 adult patients with moderate to severe dry eye disease and divided them into two groups for a year-long study.

The researchers gave the first group of 349 patients 3000mg of omega-3 fatty acid supplements while the second group of 186 patients received olive oil as a placebo. The researchers followed the participants in each group and analysed their data at the sixth and twelfth months.

No significant improvements in either group

The analysis revealed that both groups had a similar degree of relief after a 12 months period, with a small margin of improvement among those who received omega-3 fatty acid supplements. However, there was no significant difference in the mean outcome between the group receiving omega-3 fatty acid supplementation and the placebo group.

Omega-3 supplements may not relieve symptoms of dry eye disease

Therefore, this study found no substantial evidence that omega-3 fatty acid supplementation has a relieving or resolving effect on the symptoms of dry eye disease.

In conclusion, even though omega-3 fatty acids have numerous health benefits including anti-inflammatory properties, the use of high doses of omega-3 fatty acid supplements does not relieve or resolve the symptoms of dry eye disease.

Therefore, patients experiencing dry eye disease will benefit more from adhering to their treatment as prescribed by the doctor and avoiding the predisposing factors of dry eye disease.

Written by Ijeoma C. Izundu, MBBS

References: Asbell PA, Maguire MG, Pistilli M, et al. n−3 Fatty Acid Supplementation for the Treatment of Dry Eye Disease. NEJM. 2018 April 13.

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