Perennially touted as a treatment for everything from allergies to the common cold, honey is now being scrutinized for its potential benefits in managing dry eye symptoms.
Researchers at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Brisbane, Australia, plan to put antibacterial medical honey to the test in upcoming clinical trials that compare conventional lubricant eye drops and other clinic-based treatments to honey-based therapies.
The trials will use an eye drop that incorporates a mixture of Manuka honey—reported as helping reduce inflammatory markers on the ocular surface—as a substitute for traditional eye drops, ointments, gels and steroids.
The research points out that conventional therapies often can have side effects, such as diminished effectiveness over time and increased risk of eye infection, to which the honey-based drops can provide an alternative.
According to a QUT news release, the first study will test patients unable to continuously wear contact lenses due to dry eye symptoms. The second, larger trial will track patients with meibomian gland dysfunction.
Eyeing relief with promising advances
While current therapies aim to restore normal tear amounts to minimize discomfort and maintain good eye health, there remains no cure for dry eye. Therefore, these clinical trials investigating the efficacy of medical honey prove intriguing, says Jerry R. Paugh. O.D., Ph.D., associate dean for research at the Southern California College of Optometry at Marshall B. Ketchum University.
"Medical honey has demonstrated efficacy in wound management and in the reduction of ocular flora in dry eye patients," Dr. Paugh writes, citing a previous study (Albietz and Lenton, Cornea, 2006).
"In this Level 2 evidence report, the authors cite unpublished data suggesting that antibacterial honey used three times daily in dry eye subjects for three months led to improvement in several ocular surface parameters including staining, goblet cell density and conjunctival inflammation. However, there seems to be little peer-reviewed evidence to support these findings."
Dr. Paugh states that the proof of efficacy for the honey-based dry eye treatment will lie in the study design, particularly accepted definitions of MGD to classify those subjects, randomization, masking and use of a placebo artificial tear with viscosity similar to that of the honey formulation.
Outside of the clinical tests, the honey-based treatment also might not fit the definition for a monograph or nondrug therapy for dry eye in the United States or Europe, he says.
"Regardless, the results of this trial will be interesting and potentially helpful in the often frustrating efforts of eye care providers to manage dry eye," Dr. Paugh states.