I like TBUTs and I cannot lie


Today, I had my head examined. Well, part of my head. Okay then, my eyes. I had an eye test.

The usual results transpired. My macular degeneration continues to degenerate my maculae, and I need to get new lenses. And as you do, I’m also taking the opportunity to get new frames.

Interestingly, I also have ‘dry eye’. According to the leaflet I received, this may be caused by pregnancy. Or stroke. (Some other causes are also mentioned.)


There is no real cure for dry eye, but symptoms can be managed. Increasing your blink rate usually has a positive effect on the number of tears produced…Using eye drops will keep the eye moist and reduce symptoms.

Anything else?

Your Ophthalmologist may reduce the amount of tears…


…by plugging drainage channels…


Extreme cases may require surgery.

Yikes! Thinking of surgery makes my eyes water. Aaaaaand problem solved.

* * *

Actually, today’s optometrist told me that Omega-3 fish oil might also be of help. Having tackled some Omega-3 hysteria before, I wondered whether this was just another spurious application for this fishy-smelling, eskimo-patronising, cancer-causing (allegedly) fad.

I was also immediately struck by a question. Namely, do you rub the fish oil into your eyes, or do you take it in tablet form? Supressing her laughter, the optometrist calmly told me that you, er, consume it in tablet form. (How was I supposed to know?)

A few small-scale studies have suggested that oral consumption of Omega-3 oils may help reduce the symptoms of dry eye. These are indeed quite small studies. But study-sizes apart, I do think some of their dependent variables are quite funky.

Take TBUT, for example. TBUT stands for ‘Tear Break-up Time‘. Genius.

Break-up tears time. (No?)
Not that type of break-up

In one recent study, taking Omega-3 oils was associated with a reduction in TBUTs compared to placebo. But the study only had 60 or so participants (30 in each group), and the average TBUTs for people post-treatment were 4.7 ± 2.6 seconds for those taking Omega-3 compared to 5.67 ± 2.6 seconds for controls (i.e. , a difference of 0.97 seconds). While these values corresponded to increases of 0.2 and 1.7 seconds respectively, I have some reservations: (a) the margins-for-error were huge; and (b) generally speaking, in almost every conceivable situation, I have 0.97 seconds to spare. For anyone. Seriously, I can wait. Take your time (but no more than 0.97 seconds).

Those interested in conducting their own studies can avail of a Cochrane Library Intervention Protocol. The aims of the protocol are to enable researchers “to assess the effect of omega-3 and omega-6 PUFAs on the signs and symptoms of patients with dry eye, and to document any treatment-related adverse events.” In other words, we don’t really know for sure whether or not this stuff helps with dry eye, or whether or not it has nasty side effects. (I’m predicting it makes your eyes fall out.)

And guess what. It transpires that this study actually exists:

Topical Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids for Treatment of Dry Eye

You see? Rubbing the stuff into your eyeballs does make sense! The results were disappointing, granted, and the study in question was conducted on mice. But what matters here is that it does make sense to try rubbing it in to see if that works.

So I guess I don’t need my actual head examined after all.

Share this:

Leave a Reply