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The itching, burning, and stinging — dry eyes are as painful as they look.

Treatments for chronic dry eyes often go above standard eye drops. You likely need a lubricating eye drop that contains an oil-based solution. One such solution is castor oil.

Keep reading about castor oil and how it may help when you have dry eyes.

Castor oil is an oil produced from castor beans, which are commonly grown in Western India, South America, and Africa. In terms of medical use, most people know castor oil as a laxative taken by the spoonful.

However, pharmaceutical manufacturers have also used castor oil as a mix-in to deliver medications. For example, castor oil is often added to the cancer treatments paclitaxel and docetaxel.

People have used castor oil to treat various eye conditions too. A study published in the journal The Ocular Surface studied the topical use of castor oil to treat blepharitis, or inflammation of the eyelid. Daily application to the eyelid for 4 weeks helped to reduce symptoms like eyelash matting.

Researchers have studied the potential benefits of using castor oil as an eye drop, not just as a topical application on the eyelids. Some of these studies include:

  • A 2014 animal study published in the Journal of Veterinary Medical Science studied the application of a solution containing castor oil and sodium hyaluronate on pig’s eyes. The researchers found this mixture had a protective effect against eye dryness and recommended using the mixture as an artificial tear.
  • A 2010 study published in the journal Contact Lens and Anterior Eye found an eye drop that contained castor oil helped to reduce dry eyes by increasing thickness in the tear’s lipid layer.
  • A 2002 study published in the journal Ophthalmology studied the use of castor oil-containing eye drops in the treatment of meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD), a common dry eye cause. Study participants applied a mixture that contained 2 percent castor oil and 5 percent polyoxyethylene castor oil. The researchers found the castor oil eye drops were effective in treating MGD, and study participants didn’t report adverse side effects.

Oils like castor oil are a common component of dry eye treatments. The oils create a film over the eye that reduces the likelihood that water will evaporate from the eyes, causing them to be less dry.

Castor oil is a component added to some commercially available artificial tears. Examples include:

These eye drops are usually emulsions, which means they include oil (like castor oil) and water. As a result, you’ll usually need to shake the eye drops before applying them.

Here are some tips for how to use castor oil eye drops:

  1. Wash your hands before applying.
  2. Remove your contacts if the castor oil eye drops contain a preservative. You’ll usually see labeling that reads “contact-safe” or “preservative-free” if the drops are OK to use with contacts.
  3. Shake the drops before using.
  4. Remove the cap without touching the eye drop’s tip.
  5. Tilt your head slightly back and pull your eyelid down.
  6. Hold the dropper over your lower eyelid and squeeze the eye drop bottle, allowing the drop to fall in.
  7. Close your eyes and allow the drop to coat your eyes. You may wish to gently press on the inside of your eyes (your tear ducts) to keep the eye drops from escaping.
  8. Put the cap back on the eye drops and wash your hands.
  9. Apply about four times daily for best results.

Should you make your own castor oil eye drops?

Should you try and make your own castor oil eye drops? In terms of safety, the answer is no. There are many considerations for properly preparing eye drops, and you risk introducing bacteria into your eyes that could lead to worsening symptoms.

Our advice is to purchase a premade eye drop instead of creating your own.

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One of the most common side effects of castor oil eye drops is blurry vision. This isn’t because the drops are damaging your vision, just that the oil is creating a protective film over the eyes. The blurring will usually clear after a few moments.

Other side effects can include itching and swelling of the eyes. This is more common when the eye drops have preservatives, which can be irritating. Examples of preservatives in eye drops include benzalkonium chloride or sodium chlorite.

You can also have an allergic reaction to the eye drops, which can cause symptoms that include problems breathing, dizziness, or feeling nauseous. If you experience these symptoms, stop using your eye drops right away.

Dry eyes can cause uncomfortable symptoms like stinging, burning, irritation, and blurred visions. Treatments can depend on the underlying causes and how severe your dry eyes are, and include:

  • Over-the-counter artificial tears for dry eyes. These may use other ingredients such as mineral oil.
  • An artificial tear ointment. If you have severely dry eyes, you may need to use an ointment instead of a drop.
  • Prescription eye drops. These drops not only lubricate the eyes, but they also reduce inflammation and irritation. Examples include cyclosporine (Restasis) and (lifitegrast) Xiidra.
  • Punctal plugs. If other solutions don’t relieve your dry eye symptoms, your doctor may recommend these devices to allow your tears to stay on the eyes for longer.

You can also adopt some healthy habits to improve your dry eyes, such as:

  • Use a humidifier to maintain moisture in the air.
  • Take frequent breaks from looking at a computer or phone. Close your eyes or blink frequently to reintroduce tears.
  • Wear wraparound sunglasses or eyewear when outdoors to protect your eyes from wind and dry air hitting your eyes.
  • Stop smoking and avoid eye exposure to smoke.

Many solutions exist for dry eyes, so there’s likely a treatment that will work well for you.

Castor oil is a common component in some artificial tears solutions. Using it helps to lubricate the eyes and prevent moisture from leaving the eyes.

It’s best to purchase eye drops that contain castor oil instead of trying to make your own at home.

Using artificial tears that contain castor oil about four times a day can help cut back on your dry eye symptoms.