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Article extracted from Understand More About Dry Syndrome, a publication of the Singapore National Eye Centre, a member of the SingHealth group.

Dry eye syndrome is not something harmless to live with, or which will go away. Over time, chronic dry eye can damage the cornea, causing staining and keratitis – inflammation of the cornea. The eye then becomes increasingly vulnerable to infections, and vision may be damaged.

Dry Eye Syndrome: Diagnosis of the condition

An ophthalmologist can spot dry eye syndrome. Tests and procedures done in an eye clinic can assess tear stability and the amount of tears produced. When an eye opens after each blink, the tear layer in front of the eye is stretched into a very thin sheet.

At some point, breaks or gaps occur in this layer, resulting in an irregular interface between the air and the eye surface, as well as dry spots on the eye. This irregular interface interferes with the transmission of light, causing visual disturbances and light sensitivity. The dry spots trigger the corneal nerves into firing, and this is perceived by patients as pain or a burning sensation, or the feeling of a foreign body in the eye.

In patients with dry eyes, tear quality may be poor in terms of surface tension or elasticity, causing the tear layer to break up faster after each blink – a condition known as unstable tears. It is worsened by computer use or intense psychological efforts. During such activities, the blink rate decreases, exposing the eyes for longer periods between blinks.

Remedies for dry eye syndrome

  1. If the eyeball surface has not been damaged, lubricants from a pharmacy can be used. Be sure to follow the usage instructions provided.

  2. Lifestyle adjustments can prevent dry eye syndrome from worsening. Some of these are reducing the use of contact lenses, lowering the height of computer monitors, limiting one’s exposure to airconditioning, and spending less time gazing at screens.

  3. Some foods are also beneficial, especially those that contain omega-3 lipid components. If damage to the cornea has already occurred, medication in the form of steroids or surgery like punctal occlusion or a procedure to close the eyelids might be necessary.

  4. See an ophthalmologist. An opthalmologist can advise on whether the condition is an ocular and systemic disease, drugs that can aggravate dry eyes, and what can be done in those circumstances.

See the previous page to learn about the causes and symptoms of dry eye syndrome.