Dry Eye Disease
Dry eyes are one of the most common ocular conditions that eye care providers encounter. While I am pleased to reassure my patients that this is not a serious or vision-threatening condition, it can become a significant annoyance in patients’ lives, often interfering in their quality of life. Fortunately, there are more options than ever to assist in this condition. There are several brands of over-the-counter lubricating drops (artificial tears), which are often more than adequate in the majority of patients. I often encourage my patients to try the various brands, as what works for one person may not work for another.
Using the occasional lubricating drop is not a big deal, but what happens if they don’t help much; what if they help, but as a patient, I have to use them so many times a day that it interferes in my daily activities? Fortunately, there are viable options. There are prescription eye drops available, which rather than serving as tear substitutes (like artificial tears), stimulate your eyes to produce more of their own natural tears; these medications are often dosed only twice daily, and are therefore much more convenient than using artificial tears on an hourly basis.
And what about individuals (like myself) who hate using eye drops all together. Many patients with dry eyes hate the thought of sticking drops in their eyes more than the actual dry eye symptoms. There are also the individuals (like myself) who are simply lazy and poorly compliant when it comes to using any medication. Such are the patients for whom I recommend punctal plugs. This painless 30-second office procedure is one of my favorite to perform on patients because it often reduces or eliminates the need for lubricating eye drops. My other favorite thing about this procedure is that we get to place test plugs first that dissolve after 3-5 days to ensure that patients will be happy with the plug procedure.
Finally, there are those patients where none of the above measures have worked…what then? A relatively new option is the amniotic membrane procedure. A contact lens containing amniotic membrane is placed onto the patient’s eye (similar to a regular contact lens to improve vision), and this amniotic membrane dissolves over a period of days, releasing regenerative growth factors onto the eye, and often providing profound relief of dry eye symptoms.
To summarize, dry eye disease affects the quality of life of so many people. Although we cannot always cure this condition in everybody, it’s nice to know there are more options than ever before to help people with this condition.