4 Steps for a Better Life with Dry Eye

Chronic Dry Eye is a complicated disease. Why we suffer and the severity of this disease differs from patient to patient. The one thing we all have in common is the frustrating search for relief.

4 Steps for a Better Life with Dry Eye
4 Steps for a Better Life with Dry Eye

After seeing many doctors, I was finally diagnosed with meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD), evaporative dry eye, and aqueous deficiency. As if that weren’t enough, I also learned I had a pinguecula in my right eye and conjunctivochalasis, a condition that would require surgery, in both eyes.

All of the other doctors I’d seen had said there was no cure for chronic Dry Eye, only treatment and management. Each day I followed their instructions and applied what seemed to be the universal approach to managing this disease: over the counter lubricating drops, Omega 3 supplements, warm compresses, eyelid scrubs, and then Restasis. Sadly, these treatments didn’t make a dent in my discomfort and instead left me filled with anger, stress, anxiety, and depression.

As hope faded, the possibility of ever leading a normal life again appeared out of reach. This sad situation might sound familiar to many of you, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

4 Steps for a Better Life with Dry Eye

So what’s a Dry Eye sufferer supposed to do to end the suffering and find relief? These are four steps I took that got me on track to finally feeling better. I’m not completely symptom-free yet, but there’s no comparison to how much better my eyes feel today. Maybe if you take these steps your eyes will feel better too.

1. Find a doctor

First you have to find an eye doctor who specializes in Dry Eye diagnosis and treatment. Why? Well, not all eye doctors are created equal. The first ophthalmologist I ever visited was a cataract surgeon who basically dismissed my symptoms and pain. He said it was just an inconvenience I should learn to live with. Yeah, right.

Seeing him was like ordering lasagna at a Chinese restaurant. Big mistake!

Blogger Susan Howell at University of Florida fossil dig, November 2016
Blogger Susan Howell at a University of Florida fossil dig, November 2016, 8 months after AMT surgery.

If you’re lucky enough to find the right doctor on the first try, fantastic. You’re one of the lucky few. If not, continue your search and don’t stop until you find the right doctor. Just don’t ignore any red flags along the way. As much as we patients want to believe and trust doctors, it’s also important to trust your own instincts. If your doctor suggests a treatment that you’re not familiar with, or somehow doesn’t make sense, do your own research and, if necessary, get a second, or even a third, opinion.

In my case I had three doctors tell me I would need surgery to correct conjunctivochalasis. My research eventually led me to my current doctor, an ophthalmologist who specializes in Dry Eye. Last spring he preformed amniotic membrane transplantation (AMT) to remove the chalasis and the pinguecula. Without those surgeries my eyes would still be as miserable as ever.

2. Get treatment for anxiety and depression if you need it

If you find that you’re suffering from anxiety or depression, go to your primary care physician and explain what you’re going through and why. Dry Eye symptoms, and the impact they can have on your life, can easily cause, or exacerbate, anxiety and depression. Again, if your current doctor isn’t empathetic or listening to you, find a doctor who you can connect with. Emotional support is crucial when dealing with this disease.

3. Learn about the disease

Knowledge is power. Learn as much as you can about your diagnoses. Familiarize yourself with the medical terminology and research the latest treatments. The more you know, the easier it is talk with your doctor and understand what he’s saying.

Have a list of questions ready at your appointment. Write them down before you go. It’s easy to get caught up in your examination and forget what you wanted to ask. If your research led you to a treatment your doctor hasn’t offered, ask about it. Remember, you’re there not only for treatment. You’re there to learn too.

4. Stay busy

You finally found a good doctor. You’re undergoing treatment and handling your emotions. But you still don’t have the eye relief you were hoping for. Keep in mind, as of now there is no cure. I’ve found that while my symptoms have improved a lot,  I still experience burning pain daily in my eyes due to MGD and possibly an allergy. My doctor continues to help me with these.

That’s why I consider my eye treatment a work in progress. Plus I’ve learned that in order to live as normal a life as possible, I needed to focus my attention away from the pain and stress by keeping my mind and body busy. Keeping busy helps me get through the toughest days and the easiest days.

These 4 steps for a better life with Dry Eye took me from no life at all back to something almost normal.

Next time I’ll share 11 ways to stay busy with Dry Eye.

Susan Howell

Send your questions and comments to blogger@notadryeye.org.

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