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Health, Beauty & Fashion

More help for dry eyes

New products and treatment methods, ranging from special eye drops to eye-warming devices, are being tested.
The Straits Times - June 30, 2011
By: Lea Wee
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More help for dry eyes Wraparound sunglasses -- ST PHOTOS: AZIZ HUSSIN

Dry eyes can cause so much pain in some patients that doctors have to sew up their eyes as a last resort.

However, that happens only in a minority who have very severe dry eyes. Usually, only part of the eyelids (at the outer corner of the eye) are stitched up.

Consultant ophthalmologist Louis Tong from Singapore National Eye Centre (Snec) said he has done only a few such cases over the last five years.

He said: 'These patients usually suffer from severe dry eyes as a result of other autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and they do not respond to non-surgical treatment.'

The surfaces of part of the eyelids are scraped raw and then sewn together. As this heals, it forms scar tissue that seals up the opening.

This reduces the amount of eye surface that is exposed so the tear glands do not have to work so hard to lubricate the eye. Patients may need to continue using eye drops.

For the majority of patients, non-surgical treatments are enough to relieve the symptoms.

These include using lubricating eye drops and ointments, warming devices to unclog blocked tear ducts and plugs to stop the tears from draining into the tear ducts.

Treatment methods are getting better, said Dr Lee Sao Bing, medical director of Shinagawa Lasik Centre.

While conventional eye drops merely lubricate the eyes, eye drops such as Restasis (cyclosporin) also treat inflammation and increase tear production in dry eye patients.

More recently, eye drops have been developed to improve not just the quantity, but also the quality of tear fluid. Better eyelid treatments have also been introduced.

Some promising treatments that are being offered or in the pipeline include:


Recently, Snec started offering a tea tree oil scrub (Picture 2, by prescription only) that cleans the eyelids and lashes.

An American study found that tea tree oil in a certain concentration kills a common parasitic mite called demodex that lives around the eyelids. The mite causes inflammation and blocks the oil-producing meibomian glands.

Previously, there was no effective way of killing the mite. Regular use of the oil helps to improve dry eye symptoms.


These wraparound glasses or sunglasses (above) have a moisture shield that seals all or part of the gap between the spectacle frame and the skin. The shield creates a moisture chamber from the build up of humidity from the tear film, artificial eye drops and body heat. The shield also blocks airflow over the eye.

Such eyewear has been found to be effective in relieving symptoms of dry eyes, such as grittiness, especially when worn in dry or windy places. It is available in countries such as the United States for about US$100 (S$124).


Singapore Eye Research Institute (Seri) is testing the possibility of using eye drops made from the patient's own blood - or rather, its yellowish serum called plasma - to heal his dry eyes.

Unlike conventional eye drops, plasma is rich in proteins, which makes it similar to tear fluid.

After it is extracted in a haematology centre, the plasma is put in self-contained vials and given to the patient. These must be kept sterile in the freezer and used like eye drops (Picture 3).

Results from overseas studies show this treatment is more effective in relieving dry eye symptoms than conventional eye drops.

Snec and Seri are also comparing patients who use another new type of eye drop from the brand Systane Ultra, with those on conventional eye drops.

This new eye drop turns the water and mucous layers in the tear film more gel-like so that they do not evaporate easily. It is prescribed by doctors in other countries such as the US.

Seri is recruiting participants for a study on a third new type of eye drop. It wants to test the effectiveness of this mucus-secreting eye drop in holding the tear film more closely together. It hopes to recruit 100 people. Those interested can call Seri on 6322-4500/1 from 9am to 5pm.


Hot towels or gel packs are often used to unclog blocked meibomian glands. They may soon be joined by three new warming devices, soon to be tested by Seri, said Dr Andrea Petznick, a post-doctoral researcher.

One is a mini disposable eye masseur-cum-heat generator which massages the eyelid as well as produces heat to melt the globules of oil blocking the meibomian glands.

The other two are a battery-operated eye goggle, which can emit both heat and moisture, and self-warming sachets (Picture 5) which can be slipped into an eye mask (Picture 4).


Recent clinical trials in places such as South Korea, Taiwan and Sweden found that patients who used traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) treatments to treat their dry eyes showed some improvement in symptoms, compared to those who used conventional eye drops.

The TCM treatments used were acupuncture and the consumption of the Chinese herb, chi ju di huang wan.

Seri research officer Lan Wanwen, a qualified TCM practitioner, said the institute is exploring the possibility of future collaborations in dry eye research with TCM practitioners.

I suffer from dry eyes whenever I stare at my computer screen for long hours. My eyes feel like they have become stiff. I will then give my eyes a nice and slow massage and I will look out of the window to view the greenery. The simplest and cheapest way to cure eye dryness.

Violet Lam

To cope with it, I use eye drops. I also try to wear my spectacles more often. I aim to wear my contact lenses for no more than six hours every day. Lastly, I blink my eyes twice as often as I normally would.

David Emeritus Tan

I have zero tears and I have to carry disposable eye drops with me. It gets worse when I am very tired. It makes me walk like a blind man.

Irene Tan

I have dry eyes usually when I stay up late at night studying for an upcoming examination. My eyes will feel dry and almost swollen the next day.

I also get dry eyes when I sit in the front seat of the car and the air-conditioner blows directly into my eyes.

I've found that the best way to avoid dry eyes is to get enough sleep and to use eye drops occasionally to hydrate the eyes.

A cooling eye lotion also works wonders for me. It's like a mini eye-bath. After using it, my eyes feel a lot more refreshed.

Sayaka Tatekura

I had redness in the left eye which persisted for more than six months. I went to see a specialist who diagnosed it as dry eyes.

I have to put steroids and eye drops.

After that, he told me that my retina is degenerating and I have to be very careful. So no Lasik for me and I have to rest my eyes after staring at the computer screen for some time.

Lee Sze Teck

As I wear contact lenses for the entire day inside an air-conditioned room, my eyes feel dry.

Eye drops are a good source of instant relief. I also consume Chinese herbs, carrot juice and supplements to keep me looking bright-eyed every day.

Li Ying

I frequently have dry eyes, especially as I'm exposed to the computer screen every day at work.

It is definitely a nuisance and I have to take frequent toilet breaks to wash my eyes and apply eye drops.

My way of coping with it is to remember to look away from the screen at times and to blink my eyes more frequently.

Gary Teo

I have dry eyes after Lasik. They give me a headache sometimes.

I carry disposable eye drops around and make sure I drink more water. I realise that on days when I don't drink much or I stay in an air-conditioned room for too long, my eyes get very dry. Keeping hydrated is still the best way for me.

Ivy Teo

I have dry eyes especially after coming out of an air-conditioned room.

I have to wash my face and put eye drops regularly to keep my eyes moist.

I take supplements with bilberry fruit extract and drink carrot and blueberry juices which are high in antioxidants and vitamin C. I also take Chinese herbs like wolfberry.

I have regular breaks to rest my eyes and also look at greenery.

Eric Koh


Sayaka Tatekura wins a $50 shopping voucher for the best post. The winner should e-mail his full name, address, e-mail address, identity card number and contact details to by next Wednesday. Specify ST MYB Facebook as the subject.



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