Mar 10, 2018
Dry eyes are one of the most common conditions seen in the practice of ophthalmology. Collectively dry eyes probably cause more eye discomfort and irritation than any other condition. The term “dry eyes” will never go way but it’s misleading. Eye MD ophthalmologists now call this “ocular surface disorder” (OSD) and sometimes “tears dysfunction syndrome.” There are two forms of the problem. In the first (called by Eye MDs ‘aqueous deficiency’) there are no tears or few tears; it is often associated with dry mouth and is the most severe form. In the second form, the eyes water constantly or often. It is called ‘lipid deficiency’ and is caused by eyelid oil gland (Meibomian Gland Disorder or MGD) problems. In the first form the eye doesn’t make enough tears; in the second form the tears are of poor quality. There are many tests for OSD, some of them quite expensive, but the diagnosis can usually be made by a careful symptom review and examination of the eye and eyelids. For persistent problems a complete medical eye examination by an Eye MD ophthalmologist is needed plus telling the Eye MD about your symptoms and how troublesome you find them. Self education on OSD is extremely important.
If you are menopausal or post-menopausal be sure you and your gynecologist maintain optimal hormonal balance. (Many women with dry eyes have dry mouth and dry vaginal canal). If you have joint pain have that evaluated to be sure you don't have Sjorgren's syndrome or rheumatoid arthritis. You might review your medications with your ophthalmologist. Almost any cold, allergy or sinus medicine can cause or aggravate dry eye and mouth. Oil and debris along the eyelids (blepharitis) can aggravate dry eyes. Blepharitis can also cause eyelid infections such as styes, blocked oil glands (chalazion) or eyelash loss and red eyes and eyelids. Eye lid cleaners and wipes are very useful. They are non-prescription. The easiest to find, and among the best, are Ocusoft products: http://www.ocusoft.com/ For recalcitrant cases the new prescription Avenova Eye https://avenova.com/ has worked extremely well.
OSD treatment usually begins with use of preserved and/or unpreserved artificial tears during the day and gels or lubricating ointments at bedtime. Environmental modification is important. Don't belittle eye drops. They are not ‘all the same”. You would never walk into a restaurant and say “Bring many any type of food, it’s all the same.” There are over 100 different brands of artificial tears and they can't all be lumped together. Sometimes one will find the perfect drop. That means you put the drop in and your eye becomes comfortable in 5-10 minutes and remains comfortable for at least 3-4 hours. If it stings or burns, write down the name on a list you keep and give it a failing grade. If it helps but only for an hour continue your search for one that lasts 3-4 hours; give it an average grade. YOU MUST KEEP A LIST OF DROPS YOU HAVE TRIED AND HOW THEY WORKED OR DID NOT WORK FOR YOU.
Because the OSD problem is so prevalent the pharmaceutical companies are coming out with new products all the time. Some of the newest are Systane preserved and unpreserved, Optive, Blink, Soothe, and Retaine. Eye drops for dryness are classified as unpreserved drops (individual vials that must be used within 24-48 hrs.), preserved drops, gels and ointments. The unpreserved drops are more expensive and usually only help the small percentage of people that are really allergic to preservatives. Gels and ointments are normally used at night since regular artificial tears won’t last all night. Ointments are messy and many people dislike them. Be sure to try Nature’s Tear’s Eyemist a spray for dry eyes that works for many people. It is available without a prescription. http://www.naturestears.com/
Tears may need to be used as often as 4-6 times/day. House brand or generic eye drops may work for the mild forms but moderate or severe OSD usually requires newer brand names. Omega 3, taken by mouth, has been shown to be helpful. Sources include fish oil (which some people have trouble tolerating), creel oil and flaxseed oil. Environmental modification means not sleeping under a fan, not blowing air into the face (example in work station, cars, planes) and humidifying home and work and sleep areas during dry winter months.
Some activities aggravate both types of dry eyes because they cause the eye to blink less frequently. These include reading, use of any video screen (computer, iPad, iPhone, video games), watching TV, going to movies. Discomfort can be helped a great deal by looking away from the screen and focusing on a distant object and blinking forcefully 8-10 times. Do this every 15 minutes during these activities. Because of the increasing amount of time young people are spending on computers/phones/tablets/videogaming there is an epidemic of dry eyes in young people: https://www.nbcnews.com/nightly-news/video/studies-excess-screen-time-could-be-aging-kids-eyes-870691907947 (as an aside young people are also developing impaired hearing at a much younger age due to loud music via headphones/earbuds).
Warm compresses are often helpful. Hot washcloths may suffice but a much better way is with re-heatable, eye pads available at any drug store. They are relatively inexpensive and way more efficient that hot washcloths. Follow the directions carefully to prevent damage to the eye. Additional things that can help include a diet rich in fatty fish (e.g. salmon, sardines, etc.). Fish oil taken by mouth usually 2 to 4/day has been show to help some patients. Do not start with this many fish oil/day. Start one per day with a meal and every 2 weeks as another to the amount recommended on the bottle. Ask your physician before beginning fish oil. In addition, there are non-prescription pills for dry eyes available at most major drug stores or by direct order from the companies. Thera-tears formula for dry eyes is probably the most widely used. You can use any search engine to pull up the websites of the companies that see these.
For people that exhaust all these first and second level treatments, whom are still moderately or severely symptomatic and/or who are using drops 4 or more times/day, they might consider Restasis or Xiidra. These are not artificial tears but prescription eye drops that over a period of 4-6 months: 1. reduce inflammation on the surface of the eye and 2. promote the formation of more efficient, high quality tears. It is important to realize the commitment one is making when considering these: 1. twice/day for the rest of your life (or until something better comes along) 2. waiting 4-6 months for them to start working 3. expense associated with them (although in the long run may be less expensive than purchasing brand name eye drops to use 4-6 times/day). You can read about them on their websites: https://www.restasis.com/ and https://www.xiidra.com/
This is sort of a personal testimonial. I do not receive any money from any drug company for anything. My wife and I have moderately severe dry eyes. I have aqueous deficiency, classic ‘dry eyes” and my wife ‘lipid deficiency’. When we did not respond to first and second level treatment we went on Restasis. After 3-4 months we saw some improvement and after 6 months were entirely comfortable with only occasional use of artificial tears. Both of us have been on Restasis over 5 years. There is a way of using Restasis in non-preserved vials that can dramatically reduce the cost. This method does not work with the multi-drop Restasis bottle introduced the past year. We always ask for the non-preserved vials. Xiidra is relatively new. They are advertising heavily now using Jennifer Aniston as spokesperson. It is not better than Restasis and in the testing phase in some areas was not as good as Restasis. The company is marketing that its full onset comes 4 months after starting drops whereas Restasis is 6 months. I have not used a great deal of Xiidra in my practice for several reasons: 1. when patients hear how well Restasis did for me and my wife they want to try it. 2. In the few cases I have tried it the patients did not like it and especially 3. when the Xiidra first refill discount cards and samples are exhausted the patients have found it way too expensive.
New treatments also include pulsed laser to the surface of the eyelids https://www.reviewofophthalmology.com/article/intense-pulsed-light-for-treating-dry-eye and heat/compression to the eyelids https://tearscience.com/lipiflow/ I do not have much experience with these but patients treated elsewhere have told me they are quite expensive and may or may not prove helpful.
If you reach a point of exhausting all the above see an ophthalmologist that specializes in "Cornea and External Disease". This is their special area of expertise. A final new treatment that they can often do is “Autologist Platelete-rich plasma” therapy. This uses eyedrops made out of your blood products. (reference Ocular Surgery News: November 1, 2007 page 46 lead author Jorge Alio MD.
While dry eyes-ocular surface disorder cannot be cured, it is a chronic problem, is can almost always be helped a great deal. The Eye MD can only do so much and much of the success of treatment is determined by the willingness of the patient to learn about the problem and systematically work towards relief of their symptoms.