Dry eyes (keratoconjunctivitis sicca) is very common in Singapore. It not only affects the elderly but also young adults, especially those who wear contact lenses or work in an air-con environment.
How will I feel if I have dry eyes?
You may have one or a few of the following symptoms:
- Burning sensation
- Redness of the eyes
- Foreign body sensation (eg, feeling like there is sand in the eyes)
What are the causes of dry eyes?
This may be due to:
- Lack of tear production
- Increase tear evaporation, which is commonly due to oil gland problem of the eyelid (meibomitis)
What makes my dry eyes worse?
- Wearing of contact lenses
- Working in a dry or windy environment
- Staring at the computer or books for a prolonged period
- Using medications that reduce tear production, for eg, antihistamines for running nose
How can it be treated?
You will need to have your eyes assessed to see which type of dry eyes you have.
(A) Lack of tear production
Avoid things that make your dry eyes worse. In mild cases, use of preserved artificial tears up to 4 times a day may be adequate. In severe cases, we recommend the use of preservative free artificial tears, which can be used more than 4 times a day and even used every few minutes. Eye ointments tend to lubricate the eye for longer periods but may lead to slightly blurred vision. These ointments are useful at night.
Our tears are drained into the nose though openings on our eyelids (punctum). These openings can be blocked with the use of punctal plugs. This will reduce the drainage of tears from the eye and therefore reduce dryness.
In severe dry eyes, the eyes are often inflamed. This then requires the use of eye drops that can reduce inflammation. Examples of such eye drops are steroids and cyclosporin. As these are strong medications, your doctor will discuss with you when and how they are to be used.
(B) Increased evaporation of tears
Our tear film consists of a layer of oil (lipid) that reduces tear evaporation. This oil comes from oil glands on our eyelids. When the quality of this oil is not good, the tears evaporate faster, leading to dry eyes. The condition that causes this to happen is known is blepharitis or meibomitis. The treatment is directed at the eyelids.