Optometrist ANDY MEAU of iSight Optometric Eye Care Centre discusses the all-too-common affliction of dry eyes. What are some of the common causes, symptoms and treatments for dry eye disease – and what can we do at home to prevent it.
What makes our eyes moist, and why is this important?
Tears are produced by lacrimal glands above our eyes. Every time we blink, the upper eyelid touches the lower lid, and a layer of tears called a tear film spreads across the surface of our eyes. This tear film helps to keep our eyes moist and focus light so we can see clearly. Our tears also have naturally occurring enzymes called lysozymes that function as antimicrobial agents to protect our eyes from infection, and flush out dirt and dust.
What are some symptoms of dry eye disease or syndrome?
Symptoms include a feeling of scratchiness or having something in the eye, a burning or stinging sensation, light sensitivity, redness, itchy and blurry vision.
What are some causes?
Risk of dry eyes include age (40 or older), gender (women are more susceptible), wearing contact lenses, working conditions (air-conditioned offices, dusty environments, too much screen time), a diet lacking in vitamin A or omega-3 fatty acids, and autoimmune conditions such as Sjögren syndrome.
Has the pandemic contributed to an increasing number of cases of dry eye?
The shift to working from home has played a part. When we spend all day at home on our screens, this leads to a decreased rate of blinking. And being indoors in Hong Kong can also mean being in an air-conditioned environment all day. When we don’t leave home, there are fewer opportunities for human interaction, and less time for our eyes to relax and the tear film to restabilise. Another factor is the updraft caused by wearing masks, which can exacerbate the evaporation of tears.
Finally, a recent study in Clinical and Experimental Ophthalmology found that almost 20 percent of COVID patients develop dry eye symptoms a month after recovery due to tear film instability.
What can readers do at home or in the office to minimise the problem?
- For anyone who works with screens most of the time, I always advocate doing blinking exercises after every 10 minutes of work. Simply blink fully ten times, making sure the upper lid and lower lid touch.
- I recommend using artificial tear eye drops twice a day.
- At home, a warm compress for 10 to 15 minutes every day can help to unclog openings in the eyes known as the meibomian glands.
- Be sure to completely remove eye makeup at the end of the day, as cosmetic products can potentially cause blockages in the meibomian glands.
- A diet of fish high in omega-3 fatty acids – salmon, sardines, tuna, trout and mackerel, for example – has been found in numerous studies to be effective in reducing dry eye symptoms.
- Using a humidifier can help to moisten dry indoor air, while air cleaners that filter out dust and irritants in the air can also be helpful
What are the dangers of not tackling dry eyes?
If dry eye is untreated, besides the physical discomfort, it can lead to inflammation, infections, abrasion of the corneal surface (akin to the cracked skin on our lips), corneal ulcers and potential vision loss. Dry eyes can also cause a decreased satisfaction in performing daily activities and decreased work productivity.
It’s important to see an optometrist who is fully equipped for dry eye diagnosis and treatment, including using specialised infrared cameras to view the eyes. Once the type of dry eye disease is identified, we can prescribe the appropriate artificial tear eye drops. As a rule, preservative-free eye drops are always better for the eyes than eye drops with preservative.
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