Exercise can help relieve dry eyes, new study reveals

We all know there are several benefits to be gained from getting our heart rate up, and here’s another – researchers have discovered that aerobic exercise can help relieve the symptoms of dry eye disease.

In a study led by a team from the University of Waterloo and published in Experimental Eye Research, the international research group found that there is a significant increase in tear secretion and tear film stability after exercising.

Fifty-two participants were recruited and divided into two groups – athletes and non-athletes. The athlete group exercised at least five times per week, while non-athlete participants exercised no more than once per week. The researchers performed visual examinations before and five minutes after each exercise session, where they assessed tear secretion and tear break-up time.

While participants in the athlete group showed the largest increase, Mr Heinz Otchere, a PhD candidate in vision science at Waterloo, said all participants experienced a meaningful boost in tear quantity and tear film stability after each exercise session.

He said: “It can be challenging for people to regularly exercise when the demand is there to work increasingly longer hours in front of screens. However, our findings show physical activity can be really important for not just our overall wellbeing, but for our ocular health too. Our study aimed to determine if remaining physically active can be an effective preventative measure against dryness.”

A healthy tear film comprises three layers; oil, water, and mucin, which work together to hydrate the eye and protect against infection-causing irritants like dust or dirt.

When any part of the tear film becomes unstable, the surface of the eye can develop dry spots, causing symptoms like itchiness, stinging or burning. An increase in tear secretion and tear film stability allows the eyes to remain properly protected.

Optometry Australia’s Chief Clinical Officer Luke Arundel said: “This is promising research and another strong reason for people to get out and about and be active.

“Dry eye disease can be incredibly uncomfortable and can impact your day-to-day life. If you’re experiencing symptoms of dry eye disease – including scratchy, gritty, or sore eyes – by all means, increase your physical activity if you are able to do so. It’s also important to visit an optometrist, discuss your symptoms and find the right treatment plan to manage this condition over the longer term.”

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