Combating Dry Eyes: How TCM can help

A recent article from Channel News Asia (CNA) features a breakthrough study that suggests acupuncture is a viable treatment option for people who suffer from dry eye syndrome.

The study jointly published by Singapore Eye Research Institute (SERI) and Singapore Chung Hwa Medical Institute (SCHMI) shows that acupuncture significantly improves composition of actual tears and lowers inflammation in the eyes, which in turn, relieves symptoms of dry eye syndrome.

What is dry eye syndrome?

Dry eye syndrome occurs when there is a decrease in tear production, or when tears are not of the correct consistency and evaporate too quickly.  

Symptoms of dry eye syndrome include but are not limited to:

  • Eye irritation
  • Eye fatigue
  • Watery eyes (body’s response to irritation of dry eyes)
  • Blurred vision
  • Eye sensitivity to light
  • Eye redness

To date, the number of sufferers from dry eye syndrome are on the rise due to an increased amount of screen time in recent years (as compared to those days where we were still using pagers and Nokia phones!).

This health issue sounds mild, but it has become a more prevalent problem and with the current Covid-19 pandemic, more people are reporting more health-related issues linked to dry eyes, ranging in severity. 

In fact, earlier in March, Singapore National Eye Centre (SNEC) reported a 15% increase in dry eye syndrome sufferers as compared to pre-Covid times. 

Indeed Covid-19 has brought about many changes to our lifestyles and have brought out a number of health-related issues.

Some factors from the Covid-19 pandemic that contribute to the rise in dry eye sufferers, they include:

  • Prolonged screen time, especially for people who find themselves working longer when at home. This results in a reduction in the number of blinks which usually serve to lubricate eyes and prevent blockage in the oil glands along the eyelids.
  • Mask wearing. This creates an upward airflow towards the eyes and increases the rate of tears evaporation in the eyes.
  • Lack of sleep, eyes are exposed longer in the air instead of resting

A recent study in Hong Kong found that one of the long Covid symptoms among recovered Covid-19 patients is dry eye syndrome, with a prevalence of 20%. In addition, findings demonstrated that patients who received supplementary oxygen treatment during hospitalisation are more likely to suffer from dry eye syndrome later on. The likelihood of getting dry eye syndrome is also associated with the severity of the acute infection. 

TCM treatments as an effective way to help

The study conducted by SERI and SCHMI is a follow-up from an earlier study in 2018, back then the addition of acupuncture was found to be 16% more effective in providing symptomatic improvement compared to just using artificial tears alone. The finding also suggested that acupuncture led to a decrease in the concentration of some inflammatory factors.

The recently published study (2021) further recognises the role acupuncture plays in treating dry eye syndrome. It suggests that acupuncture led to an increase in the beneficial proteins found in tears while reducing inflammatory proteins. This process improves the composition of tears, reduces inflammation, protects the ocular surface, and thus helps to resolve the symptoms associated with dry eye syndrome.

In addition, numerous studies on the usage of either single herb or compound formulations to treat dry eye syndrome have indicated that herbal medication contributes favourably without known side effects. These herbal medications aid in providing anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory agents, as well as hormone-like compounds or cell-repairing agents in the treatment.

Preventive measures

Here are some tips to help prevent dry eye syndrome:

  • Avoid air blown towards your eyes
  • Avoid prolonged or excessive visual tasks, and take 5 minute breaks after every 45 minutes of work 
  • Avoid dusty or dry environments and maintain a certain moisture level in the air
  • Adopt healthy dietary habits, ensure sufficient intake of lutein and zeaxanthin or Vitamin A, B, C, and E

Examples of food rich in the element:

From a TCM perspective, avoiding cold, spicy, and oily food, maintaining work-life balance, regulating emotions and cultivating a peaceful mindset are important in regulating the zangfu-organs. Healthy zangfu-organs are able to function normally in transporting essence and nutrients to the eyes so as to ensure good visual function. This is especially so for the Liver which is in charge of our eyes.

You may try out these herbal tea recipes to prevent or resolve dry eyes:

Recipe 1

Ingredients:

  • White Chrysanthemum Flowers (白菊花, Bai Ju Hua) 6g
  • Wolfberries (枸杞, Gou Qi) 6g

Instructions:

  1. Put both ingredients into a cup and pour boiling water over it.
  2. Let it steep for 10 mins before consumption.

Recipe 2

Ingredients:

  • Dendrobium (石斛, Shi Hu) 10g
  • Solomon’s Seal Rhizome (玉竹, Yu Zhu) 5g
  • Wolfberries (枸杞子, Gou Qi Zi) 5g

Instructions:

  1. Put all ingredients into a teapot and pour boiling water over it.
  2. Let it steep for 10 mins before consumption.

Recipe 3

Ingredients:

  • Chrysanthemum (菊花, Ju Hua) 6g
  • Wolfberries (枸杞子, Gou Qi Zi) 6g
  • Ophiopogon tuber (麦冬, Mai Dong) 6g
  • Oroxylum seed (木蝴蝶Mu Hu Die) 6g

Instructions:

  1. Put both ingredients into a teapot and pour boiling water over it.
  2. Let it steep for 10 mins before consumption.

Choose any recipe based on your personal preference. The recommended frequency is to drink it 3 days in a week, 2 times per day. 

Acupoints

Alternatively, you may try massaging these acupoints:

Press and rub the acupoints in circular motion for 5 minutes once daily. Soreness should be felt at the acupoints when rubbing.

If the above remedies do not work, it is advisable to visit a physician to have a more in-depth understanding and professional help. TCM treatments like acupuncture and herbal medication may be useful to help more serious sufferers of dry eye syndrome.

Note: Information provided is not a substitute for a physician or any form of medical care. Individual symptoms differ due to different body constitutions and diagnosis. One should consult a licensed TCM practitioner for accurate diagnosis and treatment.




ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Physician Hao Li

TCM Physician

Double Degree (Honours With Highest Distinction): Bachelor Of Science In Biomedical Sciences & Bachelor Of Medicine (Chinese Medicine), Nanyang Technological University And Beijing University Of Chinese Medicine

Hao Li graduated with double degrees in Biomedical Science and Traditional Chinese Medicine from Nanyang Technological University and Beijing University of Chinese Medicine respectively.

He was a first-prize scholarship recipient of the Beijing Government Foreign Student Scholarship. He also received two gold medal awards for his outstanding performance in studies when he graduated from NTU: The Lee Kuan Yew Gold Medal Award and the Mdm Chow Kwai Wah and Mr Law Ka Yin Gold Medal Award.

As a beneficiary of TCM himself, Physician Leong can relate to his patients well. He is keen on applying and sharing his knowledge in TCM in order to assist his patients in achieving optimal health. He values the importance of communication with his patients as he firmly believes it is essential for the formulation of a customised and holistic treatment.

Physician Leong’s expertise: General Health, Women’s Health, Pain & Injury Management, Weight Management, Paediatric Massage.

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