Dry Eye Clinic
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Treating Dry Eye Disease: Step-by-Step

Published on
December 4, 2023
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Treating Dry Eye Disease: Step-by-Step

Dry eye disease can be treated. Lubricating eye drops are helpful but are ineffective on their own in most cases. Dry eye disease is best treated with a comprehensive, step-wise management system.1 This involves restoring proper function to meibomian glands, maintaining good eyelid hygiene, protecting the eyes, and using lubricants.


Lifestyle changes. Includes adequate water intake and sleep while minimising environmental triggers. Chronic dehydration or poor quality sleep most certainly causes dry eyes and depending on the circumstances, may be relatively easy to address.2 Screen use is the biggest external factor on dry eyes. People stare more and blink less when concentrating, particularly when looking at screens so reducing unnecessary screen time, taking regular short breaks or even just being conscious of staring can reduce dry eye symptoms. Also, if appropriate, minimising drying medications, use of air conditioning or forced air heating, alcohol intake and ceasing smoking can be helpful.2 Commercially available air humidifier devices may also offer relief.

Preservative free lubricants. Lubricating drops like HyloFresh, HyloForte, TheraTears and TearsAgain replenish the deficient tear film and are a fundamental component of dry eye disease management.3 There are many eye drops with varied ingredients and your optometrist will discuss the best option for you. Preservative free drops are essential to avoid further aggravation of the inflamed ocular surface.1O ften just switching to a preservative free lubricating drop can make a dramatic difference.

Omega 3 supplements. These are only beneficial for individuals that don’t get enough omega 3 in their diet which typically means less than 2 serves of fish a week. In these cases ~1200mg/day of high quality fish oil can improve the quality of oil produced by the meibomian glands.4

Warm compresses. A warm compress helps to clear blocked meibomian glands by liquefying the thickened oil inside. The glands need to be heated to only 40-50 degrees but for a full 10 minutes5, followed by 1 minute of blink training. Performed regularly, this process helps to maintain regular function of the glands for an adequate protective lipid layer. Find out more about warm compresses here.

Blink training. When we blink, the closing of our eyelids pushes oil needed for a stable tear film out of the meibomian glands. It’s easier than it sounds to blink improperly or incompletely, which results in less oil release into thetears.1 Blink training both promotes more complete blinks and also maximises the effect of warm compresses. Find out more about blink training here.

Optimel manuka honey. Medical grade manuka honey is antibacterial, reduces swelling and promotes healing and these qualities make it useful in treating meibomian gland disease.6 It is easy to use but honey is mildly acidic which may cause temporary stinging on application – it doesn’t cause harm to the eyes on application.

Glasses and sunglasses. Sunglasses are crucial for the health of everyone’s eyes but are particularly helpful protecting dry eyes from the harsh effects of wind. Clear glasses can be helpful for the same reason to protect from air conditioning even when no prescription is required.


Lid hygiene. The eyelids are a difficult part of the body to adequately clean since soaps cause stinging if they get into the eyes, but good eyelid hygiene is an important element of managing dry eye disease.1 Antibacterial lid foams or washes cleanse the eyelids and lashes while conditioning the skin around the eyes without any stinging or irritation. Find out more about lid hygiene here.

Blephasteam. The blephasteam is an electronic eyelid warming device that guarantees optimal heating temperature of the eyelids for the correct length of time. Combined with in-office manual expression with your optometrist, it can be a useful addition or replacement to at-home lid warming and massage.1

Blephex. For more severely irritated eyelids, an in-office exfoliation with the Blephex device, an electric brush, comprehensively cleans the eyelid skin of persistent built up debris and dry hardened skin.3

IPL. Innovative Eye Care is the first practice in South Australia to offer Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) treatments for dry eye disease. IPL technology generates an intense pulsed light directed at the lower eyelid, providing a deep warming effect to the oil glands and reducing inflammation.4 Four treatments are required to best manage MGD over a 10 week period.

Punctal plugs. Tears should continually wash across the eye to keep it clean and comfortable and to drain away into a duct through the lower eyelid into the nose. It’s why your nose runs when you cry. When tear production is low, dissolvable or permanent (but removable if needed) plugs can be placed into the duct opening to improve dry eye symptoms and reduced reliance on lubricantdrops.2

Anti-inflammatory eye drops. Inflammation and dry eyes are related in a complex way. Anti-inflammatory drops like FML, Minims Prednisolone, cyclosporine, Cromofresh and Lomide are used short term to break the cycle between inflammation and dryness, or allow other therapies to work. In some cases, over-the-counter mast-cell stabilizers can counteract inflammation as a result of friction that a normal tear layer would prevent.7,8

Overnight lubricating gels and ointment. Particularly useful for symptoms of dry eyes that are worse on waking in the morning, thick, long-lasting lubricants like Genteal and VitPos protect the eyes throughout the night.1

Oral medications. Low dose antibiotic tablets prescribed in conjunction with your GP can be effective in controlling the deeper inflammation within the meibomian glands and improve gland functioning.4


Autologous/allogenic serum eye drops. Eye drops made from the serum of a person’s own blood, which has anti-inflammatory and repair functions, can soothe severely dry eyes and are prepared through the public hospital system.4

Therapeutic contact lenses. Bandage or scleral contact lenses are able to protect the surface of dry eyes by keeping moisture on the surface of the eye during lens wear or protecting the surface of the eye from the rubbing action of the upper eyelid during blinks.4


Long-term steroid eye drops. In severe dry eye disease, inflammation becomes the primary problem and the long-term use of prescription-only, preservative-free, Anti-inflammatory eye drops is needed.

Surgery. The final stage options include surgery to permanently block tear drainage, to smoothen or tighten eyelid shape or gland transplantation.2


1) Jones L, Downie LE, Korb D, et al. TFOSDEWS II Management and Therapy Report. Ocul Surf. 2017;15(3):575–628.doi:10.1016/j.jtos.2017.05.006

2) Clayton JA. Dry Eye. N Engl J Med. 2018 Jun7;378(23):2212-2223. doi: 10.1056/NEJMra1407936.

3) Shen Lee B, Kabat AG, Bacharach J, KarpeckiP, Luchs J. Managing Dry Eye Disease and Facilitating Realistic PatientExpectations: A Review and Appraisal of Current Therapies. Clin Ophthalmol.2020;14:119–126. Published 2020 Jan doi:10.2147/OPTH.S228838

4) Thulasi P, Djalilian AR. Update in CurrentDiagnostics and Therapeutics of Dry Eye Disease. Ophthalmology.2017;124(11S):S27–S33. doi:10.1016/j.ophtha.2017.07.022

5) Blackie CA, Solomon JD, Greiner JV, HolmesM, Korb DR. Inner eyelid surface temperature as a function of warm compress methodology. Optom Vis Sci. 2008;85(8):675–683.doi:10.1097/OPX.0b013e318181adef

6) Albietz JM, Schmid KL. Randomised controlled trial of topical antibacterial Manuka (Leptospermum species) honeyfor evaporative dry eye due to meibomian gland dysfunction. Clin Exp Optom.2017;100(6):603–615. doi:10.1111/cxo.12524

7) Rodriguez-Garcia A, Macias-Rodriguez Y,Gonzalez-Gonzalez JM. Efficacy and safety of 0.1% lodoxamide for the long-termtreatment of superior limbic keratoconjunctivitis. Int Ophthalmol.2018;38(3):1243–1249. doi:10.1007/s10792-017-0588-1


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