What is the relationship between mental health and dry eyes?
The COVID-19 pandemic has resurfaced hidden anxiety and depression. As the days come and the number of cases rises, we wonder when will this end? When will we flatten the curve, when can we go back to our old lives? Losing jobs, separation from family and friends, juggling finances. Not knowing what tomorrow will bring can build up the psychological stress one has to endure.
A study has found that dry eye patients have higher anxiety and depression scores, with more severe dry eyes as the anxiety and depression deepens. Dry eyes can manifest as the feeling of dryness, sandy, burning and stinging of the eye. Vision may also fluctuate over the course of the day. Others may describe some eye pain. Dry eyes can be debilitating in some people affecting them to function well. Factors that may cause this association may be due to medications taken as well as odd hours of sleep. However, another study had newly diagnosed anxiety and depression patients as subjects, and they too, even without starting their medications, also experienced dry eyes. This study looked at the reduced serotonin levels of these patients. This chemical produced by the nerve cells also influence the function of the tear glands. Thus low levels can disrupt proper tear gland functions. Weakened immune-system due to psychological stress can also induce dry eyes.
Now that mental health concerns are on the rise, we may see more dry eyes developing. Having enough sleep, reducing gadget use, avoiding direct fan, and aircon exposure to the face can reduce dry eyes. Your doctor will recommend warm compresses and lid hygiene to improve the health of your meibomian glands and use of eye lubricant to relieve symptoms. Nutraceuticals such as Omega 3’s and flaxseed are also an integral part of dry eye management. In more severe conditions, anti-inflammatory medications and steroids may also be prescribed.
A holistic approach is needed. In fact, another study found that happiness can reduce the dry eye symptoms one can feel. Medical management can help ease your dry eye symptoms, but most especially, during this pandemic, improve your disposition, pray, meditate, and reconnect with family and friends. We are all in this together.
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2. Hyon JY, Yang HK, Han SB. Dry eye symptoms may have association with psychological stress in medical students. Eye Contact Lens. December 21, 2018. (Epub ahead of print].
3. Imada, Toshihiro et al. “Serotonin hormonally regulates lacrimal gland secretory function via the serotonin type 3a receptor.” Scientific reports vol. 7,1 6965. 31 Jul. 2017, doi:10.1038/s41598-017-06022-4
4. Kawashima, Motoko et al. “Associations between subjective happiness and dry eye disease: a new perspective from the Osaka study.” PloS one vol. 10,4 e0123299. 1 Apr. 2015, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0123299