Tired, dry and red eyes? You may have meibomian gland dysfunction
Meibomian gland dysfunction is a prevalent condition that most Singaporeans do not know of and can lead to vision impairment
Her days began with a fight to open her eyes because of the excessive discharge that crusted her eyelids shut overnight.
Her eyes were red every day and felt dry and gritty, and this went on for months.
The 52-year-old translator, who wanted to be known only as Ms Jenna, told The New Paper: "It took me a long time to open my eyes in the morning because they were sealed shut by all the discharge.
"My eyes were also red and uncomfortable, but I thought it was just conjunctivitis."
She didn't realise it, but she was suffering from meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD), which affects the quality of the tears produced by the eyes.
It is caused by the blockage and non-functioning of the oil glands known as meibomian glands in the eyelids.
Without this layer of oil, tears dry up quickly, leading to patients experiencing symptoms such as eye discomfort, inflammation and fluctuating vision.
MGD is highly prevalent in Asian countries, with about 46 per cent to 70 per cent of the population suffering from the disease. Without proper treatment, MGD can impact a person's quality of life, with severe eye discomfort and pain.
It is also a leading cause of dry eye disease, a chronic and potentially debilitating condition that affects more than 340 million people globally and is mainly defined by ocular surface damage, which can lead to vision impairment.
A recent survey conducted by Johnson & Johnson Vision found that seven in 10 Singaporeans regularly suffer from symptoms of MGD. However, 86 per cent of Singaporeans are unfamiliar with MGD, and a majority (76 per cent) choose not to seek professional help, putting their eyesight at risk.
About three years ago, Ms Jenna experienced only mild discomfort, with her eyes slightly dry and occasionally red. Assuming it was because she was tired, she used store-bought, over-the-counter eye drops.
But her condition continued to deteriorate.
In a bid to find relief, she visited an eyecare specialist, who prescribed different eye drops, which provided temporary relief.
But once she stopped using them, her eyes became irritated again and soon grew dependent on the eye drops.
She said: "I had to apply it multiple times a day because my eyes were really uncomfortable without them. This meant I had to take the eye drops with me everywhere I went, and that made life quite stressful. My eyes were constantly inflamed, and I was always anxious about forgetting my eye drops."
Last year, she was referred to Dr Lee Hung Ming, senior consultant and medical director of Lee Hung Ming Eye Centre, where she underwent the LipiFlow treatment, which helped improve her meibomian gland function.
Combined with home treatments like eye drops and warm compresses twice a day, she is "experiencing a better quality of life with fewer symptoms", said Dr Lee.
Many cases of MGD, which can be managed with early diagnosis, go undetected because of the lack of awareness about it and what its symptoms are.
Dr Lee told TNP: "Many of my patients brush off the symptoms as occasional eye discomfort and do not seek further care, instead choosing to treat themselves with self-care remedies like eye drops.
"These treatments, while able to temporarily alleviate symptoms, do not treat the root cause of the problem, which are blocked meibomian glands."
Symptoms include dryness, grittiness, watering, irritation, stinging or burning, and blurred or fluctuating vision.
Dr Lee said: "Proper eyecare habits, daily eyelid hygiene and Omega-3 supplements can help to keep your eyes healthy and keep MGD at bay.
"(But) we encourage all Singaporeans who suffer from symptoms to get their eyes checked for MGD, especially patients who wear contact lenses, are about to undergo eye surgeries or are using eye drop medications for chronic eye disease."