The Secret Ingredient in Ayurvedic Dry Eye Care

The Secret Ingredient in Ayurvedic Dry Eye Care

In This Article

How Do You Get the Red Out?

Photo by Art Rachen on Unsplash

This winter, while deep cleaning a condo for my daughter, I was using a natural organic pine cleaning spray for pretty much every surface I could reach. She and her husband are having our first grandchild this spring so I wanted to make it super clean. The next morning, I woke up with severely dry, gritty, and painful eyes.

Typically, each winter I perform self netra tarpana, which is bathing the eyes in warm ghee with glass eye cups. This can combat dry eyes during arid Colorado winters. While I tried it after helping my daughter clean, and did get relief, it was temporary. I also tried eyes drops of every kind and again experienced just temporary relief. Sadly, the more drops or compresses I applied to my eyes, the more gritty and irritated they became. The essential oils in the organic cleaner I was using had irritated the oil glands in my eyes!

In this article, I’ll tell you the story of how I resolved this issue with a super simple do-it-yourself Ayurvedic home remedy.

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Treating Dry Eyes Without Using Chemicals

In the West, eye drops are a common remedy for dry, tired, red, itchy, and seasonally sensitive eyes. Many of these over-the-counter (OTC) drops have symptom-removing chemicals that can be hard on the delicate tissues of our eyes. Many folks use eye drops daily to get the red out without realizing that the oil glands of their eyes are extraordinarily chemically sensitive and can atrophy over time. There are about 30 microscopic Meibomian oil glands in each of the upper and lower eyelids of each eye that can become severely clogged or atrophied from chronic exposure to certain chemicals.1

With each blink, a small amount of oil is released from the Meibomian glands on the rim of each eyelid.1 Aerosol cleaners, antihistamines, and red-reducing eye drops can irritate the Meibomian glands.6 As we age, and are constantly exposed to environmental eye irritants, the Meibomian glands can atrophy, compromising your ability to secrete a layer of oil, which then mixes with tears to properly lubricate your eyes.

While doing research on dry eyes, it became clear why I wasn’t having any luck with my arsenal of eye drops. In a 2016 review of 43 studies on dry eyes, conducted by Cochrane, a healthcare research institute, OTC eye drops did not offer any greater relief than a placebo.6 In a 2019 review of more than 100 studies on dry eyes OTC drops over the past 20 years, published in the journal Ocular Surface, there was no significant reduction in symptoms.4-6

Cosmetics May Act as Eye Irritants

Women are at greater risk of dry eye concerns and researchers are investigating the relationship between using cosmetics such as eyeliner and Meibomian gland health. In a meta-analysis of studies comparing cosmetic wearers and non-cosmetic wearers, researchers concluded that cosmetics and eyeliners can destabilize the balance of tears to natural lubricants, leading to a higher predisposition for dry and irritated eyes. The study, published in the journal of Clinical Optometry, concluded that while lubricating eye drops may provide temporary relief of dry eyes, they can cause long-term tear-film stability, or long-term dry eye.3

At night, face creams can rub into your eyes while you sleep, which can cause long-term Meibomian gland dry eye irritation. Retin-A, acne, and anti-aging products are well-known Meibomian gland irritants, as are lash-growth promotors and other numerous chemicals used in most facial products. In addition, lash extensions and Botox around the eyes can affect how you blink—altering how the eyes naturally lubricates themselves.4,5

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Ancient Ayurvedic Eye Care

For thousands of years, honey was used for a variety of eye concerns, and now that use is backed by modern science. Honey has been shown to reduce eye irritation and support a healthy eye microbiome.2 Your eyes maintain a healthy balance of beneficial bacteria, but irritants can change the eyes’ moisture environment, allowing undesirable bacteria to proliferate. Some of these bacteria, much like the bacteria that cause plaque in your mouth, can congest the Meibomian glands, causing dry, gritty, and irritated eyes.1-3,5,6 Dry eye is called shushkakshipaka in Ayurveda.

The use of honey has been traced back some 8,000 years through Stone Age paintings. Ayurveda texts were some of the first to describe honey as a medicine. In India, honey or madhu, is considered one of the five elixirs of immortality and celebrated every year in a festival called Madhu Purnima.8 Traditional uses of honey are endless. Studies now show that honey has natural inhibitory effects on more than 60 species of bacteria and other undesirable microbes. With more than 200 constituents, honey is a moisturizer, antioxidant, and a digestive, lung, immune, skin, and hair tonic. It can also be, in addition to proper medical care, a supportive treatment for the eyes.7

In one study on 114 patients with dry eye, manuka honey eye drops were compared to hot compresses, lid massage, and eye lubricant drops. Optimal Antibacterial Manuka Eye Gel was used twice a day. After the eight-week study, researchers found the manuka honey group required fewer lubricating eye drops and had reduced bacteria counts, and that the honey drops were an effective adjunctive therapy for Meibomian gland dysfunction.10

The treatment for dry eye, like all Ayurvedic treatments, should address the whole individual rather than just the irritation of the eye. Your relationship to stress, digestion, lymph, and proper circulation must all be considered when addressing the underlying cause of a health concern—and the eyes are no different.9

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

DIY Honey Eye Drop Recipe

One of the Western treatments for dry eyes is to wash them with tearless baby shampoo to help scrub debris from congested Meibomian glands. This can be an effective technique and is commonly recommended here in Colorado. While searching for baby shampoo in our cupboards, I came across an old bottle of eye drops from India, made with honey and Ayurvedic herbs, and tried it. It gave me about 50% relief, so I figured that perhaps a stronger dose of honey eyes drops that evening would work faster—so I made my own formula and it did work better.

I found this recipe on the Healthline website. I used it twice and have been following up with the Himalaya drops twice a day and have been fine ever since. I did not have manuka honey, so I made the stronger Healthline formula with a raw, uncooked, organic honey.

You can mix dissolved honey with artificial tears, saline solution, or sterilized water to make your own mixture. The example below uses water:

  1. Boil 1 cup water and add 5 tsp honey, stir well
  2. Let mixture cool completely
  3. Use mixture as an eyewash, or use a sterilized eyedropper

From the Healthline article:

You can experiment with the ratio of honey and sterilized water. You can also place the mixture in the fridge before use for a cooling sensation. Be as careful as you can when using honey for your eyes. Speak to a doctor if you’re considering using honey as a treatment for any eye condition. Keep in mind that we know a lot about honey’s potential uses for eye conditions, but we don’t know as much about potential side effects. Just because something is “all natural” doesn’t mean that using it is a good idea. Don’t substitute honey for a medication prescribed by your eye doctor, and always speak to your doctor about any remedies you’re considering for your eyes.2

Disclaimer: Never put honey directly into your eyes. Before using any eye drops with honey, or putting anything into your eyes, be sure to check with your doctor. The remedies written about here are not for the treatment of any eye disease.

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Dr. John



6 thoughts on “The Secret Ingredient in Ayurvedic Dry Eye Care”

  1. I’ve always been told that heating honey destroys it’s healing characteristics. Do you cook the boiled water before adding the honey? Would using distilled water remove the boiling step? Thank you!

  2. So happy to find this great article! I have had dry eyes for only about a year or so (or at least only noticed it that long) and live here in dry Colorado myself. My eye doc recommended warm compresses that do feel good, and Oasis Tears, that bring some relief but I find the more I use them in a day the more my eyes feel irritated! I have manuka honey in my cupboard and some sterilized water so will try this today! Very excited. p.s. Did not know about washing the eyes with tearless baby shampoo and till try that too!! Thank you Dr. John!

  3. Q Dr John, this sounds super interesting. Thanks for sharing. I look forward to trying this. When I trained in Ayurveda it was advised never to heat honey as it turns toxic – can you clarify if the boiled water should be allowed to cool before adding the honey? Thanks 🙏


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