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6 effective dry-eye treatments

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Got that burning, stinging, sandy feeling? Stop seeing red with these doctor-recommended remedies.

1. Artificial Tears

Best for: Everyday burning or stinging brought on by too much computer use, say, or a late night.

How they work: Made of ingredients such as glycerin and natural oils, these over-the-counter drops can temporarily restore moisture to the eyes, says ophthalmologist Robert Latkany, the director of the Dry Eye Clinic at the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary, in New York City.

How to use them: Put a drop or two in each eye when you feel discomfort. However, if you need to use them more often than four times a day, see your eye doctor. He may suggest that you switch to preservative-free drops, which are better for more frequent use. If you’re a contact-lens wearer, look for drops labeled “re-wetting drops.” That means they’re safe for contacts.

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2. Omega-3s
Best for: People who don’t like drops.

How they work: Omega-3 fatty acids may help reduce inflammation that can contribute to dry-eye syndrome (DES), a common condition that’s easily diagnosed by an eye doctor. A 2005 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, led by investigators at Harvard Medical School, found that women who consumed the highest levels of omega-3’s in their diet had a 34 percent lower risk for DES than did others. And a 2010 study at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas showed that people who took a daily omega-3 fish-oil supplement that contained 450 milligrams of the fatty acid EPA and 300 milligrams of DHA, plus 1,000 milligrams of flaxseed oil, produced more tears.

How to use them: Add a few servings of fatty fish, such as salmon, to your weekly diet, or talk to your doctor about taking daily fish-oil and flaxseed supplements. Take omega-3 supplements with food, as they can cause stomach upset.

3. Prescription Drops
Best for:
Treating chronic DES.

How they work: Sold under the brand name Restasis, prescription drops contain the drug cyclosporine, which can help increase natural tear production. In a 2010 study published in the Korean Journal of Ophthalmology, a majority of patients reported few dry-eye symptoms or none at all after using the drops for three months.

How to use them: Apply one drop per eye twice a day. Experts note that these drops can be used indefinitely, as long as you’re under the care of an eye doctor.

4. Warm Compresses
Best for: Dryness that drops can’t seem to tackle.

How they work: Tears, your eyes’ own lubrication, are made up of water and an oily substance produced by glands along the eyelids. “If cells in the glands harden and plug the opening, it can keep the oil from getting into the tear film,” says Stephen Pflugfelder, an ophthalmologist in Houston. “Without that oil, the water in tears evaporates too quickly, leaving eyes feeling dry.” A warm compress helps liquefy plugs so the oil can flow into tears.

How to use them: Place a warm, wet washcloth over your eyelids for up to 10 minutes once a day as needed.

5. Eyelid Washes
Best for: Dry eyes that are accompanied by flaking along the lids, which could be a sign of blepharitis, a dandrufflike inflammation of the eyelash follicles.

How they work: “People with blepharitis tend to overproduce oil, which can block the glands and cause tears to evaporate too rapidly,” says Christopher Gelston, an assistant professor of ophthalmology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, in Aurora. An over-the-counter eye wash contains mild cleansing agents to dissolve oil and remove flakes (as well as irritants and allergens that can exacerbate the problem).

How to use them: Rinse or massage over the lash line once a day, typically at night (some washes come with a cup for application). If your symptoms don’t clear up after several days, see your doctor.

6. Ophthalmic Inserts
Best for: Relieving dryness that doesn’t respond to other remedies.

How they work: Available only by prescription, Lacrisert inserts are tiny cellulose beads that you place in the pocket of each lower eyelid. “They dissolve slowly and mix with your tears to provide ongoing lubrication throughout the day,” says Pflugfelder.

How to use them: Insert a bead once or twice a day. Like prescription drops, inserts are safe for long-term use, as directed by your doctor.