Why Are My Eyes so Dry? A Quick Guide to Dry Eye Syndrome 

Most of us encounter dry eyes at some point in our lives. For some, it’s a daily struggle, while others encounter it only in certain situations. Some of us may even experience it without us knowing. I’ve seen patients who come to see me worried about an eye infection only to find out that they were suffering from dry eyes. 

You might be thinking to yourself, isn’t it easy to know or obvious when our eyes are dry? Sometimes it is not so simple, everyone has different tolerance levels to pain or discomfort, and sometimes, symptoms of dry eyes are so commonly associated with other eye conditions that it can be hard to differentiate between the two.

What is dry eye syndrome?

Dry eye syndrome or dry eyes. for short, is a common condition that affects around 20% of the population. Dry eye occurs due to either insufficient tear volume or poor tear quality, resulting in an unstable tear film that is unable to provide sufficient lubrication across the surface of the eye.

So why do I have dry eyes?

Reasons for insufficient tear volume. There are several glands in and around our eyelids responsible for producing tears. The amount produced can be affected by several underlying reasons. Ageing reduces tear production and individuals over 65 are more susceptible to experiencing dry eyes. Windy, dry and smoky environments disrupt the tear film resulting in increased evaporation thus leading to decreased tear volume. Certain medications and eye conditions may cause dry eyes as a side effect. Any inflammation or damage to the eyelids can cause obstruction of the tear glands. When the amount of tears in the eye or the production of tears is decreased, you will start to experience the symptoms of dry eyes.

How do I know if I have dry eyes?

Patients suffering from dry eyes may not always share the same symptoms as symptoms are subjective and are based on the severity of the dry eye. Common symptoms my patients have experienced are one or a combination of eye redness, stinging sensation, blurry vision, grittiness, itchiness, foreign body sensation, glares and paradoxically, teary eyes.

What’s the best treatment for dry eyes?

As there are many underlying reasons that can cause dry eyes, there are a myriad of treatment options available. One thing I tell my patients is that treating their symptoms alone will not solve the dry eyes and hence not the most effective way of treating them. I like to identify the cause of the dryness, then treat root cause of your dry eyes.

How can I prevent dry eyes?

Blepharitis and dry eyes are conditions that often coexist. Good lid hygiene maintenance and certain lifestyle changes have been shown to be beneficial in managing the associated symptoms. 

Practice good eyelid hygiene 

I am a strong advocate for good eyelid hygiene. Our eyelids house some of the tear glands and keeping them clean will in turn allow our tears to flow into the eye more efficiently. I cannot stress how important it is to keep our eyelids clean as residual makeup on the eyelids can block the oil glands which subsequently affects the tear quality. Using an eyelid cleanser or foam scrub on our eyelids will prevent any debris from blocking the glands and prevent eyelid infections. 

Use a warm compress 

Using a warm compress for 5-10 minutes twice a day is also beneficial for our eyes to liquify and soften any hardened oil within the glands. Although the economical choice of warm compresses is using a warm towel to place over your eyes, it is also the least effective as it is troublesome to set up and is difficult to maintain the right temperature for the entire duration. 

Therefore, I would recommend using commercial products in the market specifically for warm compress. My clinic offers a USB-powered eyelid warming device that cuts the fuss and hassle of warm compress. Simply plug it in and put it over the eyes for 10 minutes as the device gently heats up. Should there be stubborn crusting on your eyelids/lashes, I can also use a medical grade microsponge exfoliative cleaner, BlephEx, to help clean your eyelids. Just as our face benefits from regular exfoliation, our eyelids require exfoliation too.

Practice good eyecare habits 

General lifestyle tips include optimizing your work environment in the office or at home by sitting away from the air conditioner, avoiding direct fans or using a humidifier beside your desk to allow more moisture in the air, taking frequent visual breaks throughout the day and blinking your eyes more frequently when working on the computer. Lowering the height of your screen causes you to look downwards, which reduces the ocular surface area that is exposed to air, thus reducing tear evaporation and dry eyes.

References:
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  4. Milner, M. S., Beckman, K. A., Luchs, J. I., Allen, Q. B., Awdeh, R. M., Berdahl, J., Boland, T. S., Buznego, C., Gira, J. P., Goldberg, D. F., Goldman, D., Goyal, R. K., Jackson, M. A., Katz, J., Kim, T., Majmudar, P. A., Malhotra, R. P., McDonald, M. B., Rajpal, R. K., … Yeu, E. (2017). Dysfunctional tear syndrome. Current Opinion in Ophthalmology, 28(SUPPLEMENT 1), 3–47. https://doi.org/10.1097/01.icu.0000512373.81749.b7
  5. Yeo, S., & Tong, L. (2018). Coping with dry eyes: a qualitative approach. BMC Ophthalmology, 18(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12886-018-0671-z