Self-help advice for dry eye syndrome 

There are a number of things you can do to help prevent dry eye syndrome or ease your symptoms.

Environmental factors

Certain environments can irritate your eyes. Keep your eyes protected from:

  • wind
  • hot air
  • smoke
  • dust

Wrap-around glasses may provide good protection. Avoid smoky environments, and you should try to stop smoking if you smoke.

Avoid using eye make-up. Eyeliner and mascara can block the glands in the eyelids and cause the area around your eyes to become inflamed.

Specialised eyewear

Some cases of dry eye disease can be treated using specialised eyewear. These include specially made glasses called moisture chamber spectacles. These wrap around your eyes like goggles, helping to retain moisture and protecting your eyes from irritants.

If your previous contact lenses were causing dry eye disease, special contact lenses are also available. You should discuss various options with your optometrist.

Adjust your computer

If you regularly use a computer, make sure your computer workstation is set up correctly to minimise eye strain. Your monitor should stand at eye level or just below it.

If you use a computer at work, most employers have a health and safety officer or an occupational health representative who can advise you.

You should also make sure to take regular breaks away from your computer screen every hour.

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Use a humidifier or air filter

A humidifier, such as a cool mist device, at work and home will moisten the surrounding air and can help reduce your symptoms.

Opening windows for a few minutes on cold days and longer in spring and summer will also help keep air moist and prevent a build-up of mould.

If you work or live in a particularly dusty environment, you may also find it useful to use an air filter.

Keep your eyes clean

Good hygiene will help improve dry eye syndrome, particularly if you have blepharitis.

There are three main ways you can maintain eyelid hygiene. These should be performed once or twice a day:

  • use a warm compress to make the oil produced by the glands around your eyes more runny
  • gently massage your eyelids to push the oils out of the glands
  • clean your eyelids to wipe away any excess oil and remove any crusts, bacteria, dust or grime that might have accumulated

Advice on how to do this is described below.

Warm compresses

  • boil water and leave it to cool to a warm temperature
  • soak a clean flannel or eye pad in the warm water and gently place this over the eyes for around 10 minutes
  • reheat the compress periodically by soaking it in warm water, ensuring the flannel doesn't become cold

Some people find compression with a special microwavable eyebag useful for dry eye syndrome. If you use one of these products, make sure you clean the bag before and after use.

Eyelid massage

  • gently massage your closed eyes by rolling your little finger in a circular motion
  • take a cotton wool bud and, with your eyes shut, gently roll it downwards on the upper eyelid towards the lashes and edges of the eyelids – this helps to push the melted oil out of the glands, although you won't see anything come out
  • repeat this process along the whole width of the upper and lower eyelids

This process may cause your eyes to become slightly irritated at first, a bit like getting soap in your eyes, but this is normal and should get better with time.

Lid margin hygiene

Various eyelid-cleaning solutions and eyelid wipes are available commercially, or you can try making one at home.

For a homemade solution, fill a bowl with one pint of boiled water and allow it to cool to a warm temperature. Then add a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda.

Once you've made a cleaning solution:

  • soak some clean cotton wool in the solution and remove crustiness from around the eyelids, paying special attention to the eyelashes
  • repeat this process if necessary using a clean piece of cotton wool
  • dip a clean cotton bud into the solution and gently clean the edges of the eyelids by wiping the cotton bud along the bases and lengths of the lashes

Diet

There's some evidence to suggest a diet high in omega-3 fats can help improve dry eye syndrome.

The best sources of omega-3s are oily fish, such as:

  • mackerel
  • salmon
  • sardines
  • herring
  • fresh or frozen tuna – not canned, as the canning process sometimes removes the beneficial oils

Aim to eat at least two portions of fish a week, one of which should be oily fish.

You can also get omega-3s from various nuts and seeds, vegetable oils, soya and soya products, and green leafy vegetables.

Omega-7, or sea buckthorn oil, has also been found to be helpful.

Read more about eating a healthy diet.

Page last reviewed: 17/03/2016

Next review due: 17/03/2018