Most people will have experienced symptoms of dry eye sometime in their lives. These symptoms include a feeling of dryness, grittiness, redness, itching, stickiness or any combination of these. Occasionally, the appearance of swollen eyelids or styes can be a problem. Less common symptoms are light sensitivity and watering. Occasionally, there are no symptoms at all other than intermittent blurred vision that usually, but not always, improves with blinking. These symptoms continue to recur even with the use of eye drops.
One cause of dry eye symptoms is a condition known as blepharitis. The condition results from a combination of poor eyelid hygiene, altered eyelid gland function and infection. Treatment of blepharitis involves many of the same modalities and techniques as used in dry eye disease.
Our newly established Dry Eye Laboratory analyses your ocular surface to assess the different causes of dry eye. Specialised tests measure the osmolarity (or saltiness) of the tears as well as the presence of enzymes that point to the cause of the problem, such as some auto-immune conditions. The amount, health and function of the tear film can be measured to establish how severe your dry eye disease is and these measurements can later be used to determine how well your eye responds to treatment. Blood tests can establish if there are any physical problems causing dry eye disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis or thyroid problems. A specialist examination of the eyes, skin, eyelids and eyelashes can determine if there are any local conditions leading to dry eye symptoms.
Glands in the eyelids that produce the lipid layer (or oily part of the tear film) can be damaged by age, inflammation and infection. The reduced function of these glands, known as Meibomian Gland Dysfunction (MGD), will cause rapid evaporation of tears. When MGD is the problem there are specific signs that can be seen on microscopic examination and on tear film measurements. Often, people with MGD also have other skin conditions such as Rosacea but frequently this is not obvious or has not been previously diagnosed.
The tests and procedures performed will establish the exact cause of dry eye disease to best tailor a treatment solution for your condition
Artificial eye drops are available from any chemist/ pharmacy to replace the aqueous layer of the tear film. However, these drops treat the symptoms but do not treat the cause of the dry eye. Their use provides temporary relief, requires frequent application and is never-ending. It can be quite a bother to put drops in your eyes and often your spouse or relatives need to be involved. Apart from the inconvenience, these drops are also costly and sometimes result in allergies due to the preservatives in them.
However if the right tests are performed, a specific cause can be found for your dry eye and precise treatment can be directed to fix the problem.
For example, different types of eye drops can be used for allergies, inflammation or auto-immunity. In very severe disease, sometimes a preparation of serum made from your own blood can be used to soothe the eye with great success, when all other treatments have failed.
If there is a local cause, such as if the eye lid is too droopy, or if there are in-turning eye lashes scratching the eye surface, minor eyelid surgery can permanently fix the problem without the need for eye drops. Occasionally, a plug can be temporarily or permanently used to 'save' tears from draining away when there is an insufficiency of tears. Where there is local infection, antibiotic drops or lid scrubbing techniques can be used.
If MGD is the problem, different treatments are available to reduce the problem by the application of heat, pressure, steam or massage. These treatments can be performed by yourself at home or, if required, as an in-clinic procedure. If advanced or long standing MGD is present, Intense Pulsed Light therapy is now available which when used in the right situation, gives a very high success rate in improving symptoms and reducing or eliminating the need for eye drops.
If a physical or systemic cause is found, direct referral to another medical specialist such as a rheumatologist, immunologist or endocrinologist may need to be arranged. Often treatment of the physical cause can help with the dry eye symptoms as the disease improves.
Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks. Before proceeding, you should seek a second opinion from an appropriately qualified health practitioner