Monday, November 20, 2017

Abstract: Dry eye and dyslipidemia

This study caught my eye because of so many are interested in understanding dry eye's relationship to any systemic conditions, especially those that might be flying under the radar.

Prevalence of dry eye disease and its association with dyslipidemia.

J Basic Clin Physiol Pharmacol. 2017 Nov 18.
Rathnakumar K1, Ramachandran K1, Baba D1, Ramesh V1, Anebaracy V1, Vidhya R1, Vinothkumar R1, Poovitha R1, Geetha R1.

BACKGROUND:
Dry eye disease (DED) is a common ocular surface disease significantly affecting the quality of life of patients. The aim of our study is to focus on the prevalence of DED and to determine the relationship between dyslipidemia and DED.
METHODS:
The study was performed with the age group of 25-70 years, who attended the ophthalmology outpatient department at Sri Lakshmi Narayana Institute of Medical Sciences with complaints of dry eye. A standard questionnaire was taken, and tear film tests were performed to diagnose dry eye. Further eyelid margin was examined to detect meibomian gland dysfunction. Based on the tests and examination, patients were grouped as men with and without DED and women with and without DED. Fasting lipid profile was investigated for these groups.
RESULTS:
The study showed the prevalence of DED mainly in women and found significant association between DED and dyslipidemia. There is a significant relationship between total cholesterol and DED groups especially in women (p<0 .001="" also="" and="" as="" association="" between="" br="" cholesterol="" compared="" ded="" density="" found="" high="" in="" lipoprotein="" low="" men.="" particularly="" the="" to="" triglycerides="" we="" women="">CONCLUSION:
Based on the findings, we emphasize that there is a strong relationship between dyslipidemia and the progression of DED particularly in women. Ophthalmologists may increase their role to educate themselves to diagnose dyslipidemia and ensure comprehensive eye care to prevent blindness and cardiovascular disease. Recent treatment modalities could be aimed to improve the quality of life of women and elderly patients suffering from DED.

Larger EyeLocc




For those of you with larger orbits who have found this product too small - especially too short top to bottom - I'm very pleased to say that the manufacturer is working with us on a larger version and I received some samples of it last Friday...  It's not much longer but it's a fair amount taller (i.e. from top of lid to cheek) and gets taller sooner rather than a slow taper. I think this one will fit, not everyone, but most of the people who found the original too small. We're still pondering what the best size will be as a one-size-fits-all. We have a few samples of these larger ones in anyone wants to try them.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Snippets from Saturday at AAO

Packed day. I have never seen so many ophthalmologists in one place. I used to go to the ASCRS meetings, and sometimes ARVO... but this is... bigger.

Some highlights:

Exhibit hall... 

At the big ophthalmology meetings these are dominated by top dollar technologies, so not a huge lot there of interest to our dry eye world, but here are notes from a few of my visits:

  • Lipiflow presentation (in the Johnson & Johnson family now). 
    • Audience question: "Does it still work when most glands are truncated?" Answer: "Yes.... It's mostly about preserving glands that are functional - that's the way to present it to patients."
    • One presenter said she has always done a thorough cleansing with Ocusoft on a sponge immediately before Lipiflow, and patients seemed to do better that way, but is now considering switching to Blephex. 
    • Audience question: "If the patient is needing both Lipiflow and cataract surgery, how far in advance of surgery should Lipiflow be done?" Answer: "Give it plenty of time. Usually you see a huge difference in the topography in a month."
  • Allergan: Among the enormous team they had there I hunted down someone who could talk to me about Refresh PM. He was confident it is coming back quite soon - had heard two weeks ago that it would be about a month.
  • Alcon: I was NOT able to hunt down anyone who knew anything about when Bion Tears will be back. ("Is that an Alcon product? Really?") I have since learned that this has yet again been rebranded as Genteal Tears (pf version) so apparently Alcon's site, not to mention staff, just haven't quite caught up with this.
  • Ocusoft: Had a gander at their latest stuff which I'd been meaning to catch up with. Basically knockoffs of Avenova (Hypochlor) and Refresh Optive (Retaine Tears). Going to add these to the DryEyeShop.
  • Nanotears (Altaire). Breezed by and looked at ingredients - looks like basically a Systane family knockoff. I have my own history with Altaire so I didn't stay to chat. 
  • Rendia - patient education videos, etc. Had a good chat with these folks, will consider whether getting access to their videos for DEZ would be a good idea, also considering what it would look like to collaborate with an outfit like this on making educational videos on more topics of interest to the severe dry eye and the scleral lens crowds.

Meeting with Shire...

In September 2016 I met someone who worked in patient advocacy at Shire, at the TFOS conference in Montpellier. We connected later in the year about some projects to explore, but we eventually lost touch and he has moved on from that group. So today I met with someone new to that group who is a true veteran of the patient-advocacy-within-the-pharmaceutical world, and it was a pleasure. This is not someone from the marketing side trying to play nice with patients. This is someone whose professional focus is all about increasing patient access to treatment, via all sorts of channels including education about insurance, and about legislative activism and so on. Anyway, enjoyed the meeting, kicked around some possibilities and will keep in touch.

Cornea Subspecialty Day...

I did not bother with the three morning sessions, which weren't in core areas of interest for me (corneal infections, keratoplasty, and conjunctival tumors). But the afternoon held a lot more of interest.

Section IV - Anterior Segment Imaging

Attended this more out of personal interest than anything related to dry eye - dates back rather to my early advocacy days for LASIK complications folks. 

Dr Majmudar on aberrometry... I love people who take aberrometry seriously. (And I can't help loving the term "abberropia" which so aptly describes post LASIK vision for some of us.) Fun to hear about great ways they're using it for more informed diagnosis and surgical planning in non elective procedures.

Dr Shousha (Bascom Palmer, another of my favorite places) and later Frank Price on intraoperative OCT - a real time cross section of the cornea... loved it.... helping prevent descemets perforation during keratoplasty or more accurately diagnose complications post operatively.

Section V: Keratoconus

Learned lots about diagnosis, and especially early diagnosis of Keratoconus... wasn't really a huge area of interest until the last couple of years and the "Great Saline Crisis" when I suddenly made the acquaintance of vast hordes of keratoconics and got curious about how it works. Dr Michael Belin was really adamant about the importance of diagnosing subclinical keratoconus and treating early to avoid vision loss. Dr Debbie Jacobs, one of my favorite people (medical direction at BostonSight) presented on the full range of specialty contact lenses from piggybacking to PROSE. There was a presentation on corneal crosslinking by a colleage of Dr Glassner's who wasn't able to make it.

The most remarkable thing to me from this entire section was that everyone gets very excited about  surgery, and almost no one considers contacts/sclerals/PROSE. Dr Jacobs presentation was excellent and yet felt like a blip in an ocean of cutters. Hmmmm. I probably wouldn't be raising the point if it weren't that so many scleral lens and PROSE users that I know have had corneal grafts or other very invasive surgeries - and still needed the lenses afterwards - which makes one wonder if (in situations where it might have been appropriate) they were offered that option before surgery.

Section VI: Inflammatory Conditions of the Anterior Segment

This was the only cornea session really touching much on our pet topics here related to dry eye. 

Dr Anat Galor (Bascom Palmer) presented on the many dry eye diagnostic tests available now (differentiating between those that spit out numbers and those that are qualitative only). She also mentioned a Sjogrens-specific test available from B&L, but the patient cost was quite high ($614).

I'm looking up my notes on the allergic conjunctivitis presentation and reflecting on the fact that I have been sneezing nonstop today, despite the pollen.com report being low for New Orleans today. But I REALLY enjoyed this presentation by Dr Deepinder Dhaliwal (UPMC). Technical information but a lot of common sense practical stuff that people ignore - like, don't rub your friggin' eyes! and that if itching is present, allergy is very likely. And to wash all your bedding in hot water. Wash your hands and change your clothes when you get home, when the pollen count's high. Went over treatment regimens, all the usual stuff but she also mentioned a sublingual immunotherapy which is apparently effective for ocular allergy? I must look this one up. 

Dr Wuqaas Munir on Stevens Johnson Syndrome - I really appreciated getting a better understanding of how this disease works and what happens when it's chronic. Only surprised to not hear more about PROSE as a treatment. 

Dr Steve Pflugfelder (Baylor; world known dry eye specialist incidentally) - breath of fresh air to hear PROSE mentioned casually in every context where it OUGHT to come up, as though he assumes everyone is already up to speed on that. Anyway his talk was on Sjogrens. One of the things that clicked with me was the intense environmental vulnerability of the Sjogrens eyes. He mentioned a study - it went by too fast and I haven't found it yet - where just 90 minutes' exposure to a bad environment for eyes (eg very low humidity) was enough to cause measurable clinical change. - Later on during Q&A I was interested to hear him sum up hormone based treatments as all very interesting but... little evidence of actual efficacy. Oh and one last highlight, someone asked about preservative free steroids, and again, he managed to make it sound like this should be NORMAL (thank you Dr P). 

Last, there was a great little presentation by Dr Chris Rapuano (Wills Eye), wish he hadn't disappeared so quickly afterwards so I could have thanked him, on SLK, which he described as constantly getting missed in diagnosis. "Lift the lid and make them look down!". Often occurs alongside dry eye and/or bleph. More common among middle ged females. Associated with thyroid disease. Lots of superior staining and a 'velvety' pattern.

After that it was all about waiting for uber and finding really good gumbo. Tomorrow is another day!

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Refresh PM & Lacri-Lube

Ointments, ointment, ointments... one of those necessary evils for so many people!

I've been hearing from a lot of people who are concerned at not being able to find Refresh PM, or at least not for an accessible price.

Yes, Refresh PM as well as Refresh Lacri-Lube are on backorder at the manufacturer and have been for some months now, so the wholesalers are running out and many retailers are completely out.

Yes, the Amazon and eBay scalpers are out in force as usual.

Lacri-Lube is easier to find than Refresh PM.

No, so far as I know, neither product is being discontinued. I've learned the hard way not to be too adamant when I say that! Because, you know, that's what I said the first couple of times someone asked me if Unisol 4 was being discontinued, back in mid 2015. ("Of course not!" followed by a quick call to the manufacturer and then.... um... "Oh dear. I can't believe it but...") One never knows for sure, because of course, while we've been talking to Allergan frequently about this, if the product really were being discontinued, from past experience it seems likely that their sales staff might be the last ones to learn.

At any rate, I am ever so cautiously optimistic, emphasis on the optimistic, that Refresh PM and LacriLube are merely backordered, NOT on their way out.

Meantime, there ARE other ointments available, like Genteal Ointment and Systane Ointment. The only unique thing about Refresh PM is the proportion of petrolatum to mineral oil (57.3%:42.5%, versus 94%:3% in the Alcon ones). For many people, these details don't matter; for some, they do matter. (You know who you are.)

If you're not able to get Refresh PM at a reasonable price right now, my suggestions would be:

  • Try the Genteal or Systane ones, esp. in combination with some kind of physical barrier at night (plastic wrap? sleep mask? moisture goggle? something anyway)
  • Try Genteal Gel or a similar polymer gel, if other ointments don't agree. Gels dissolve rather than leaving greasy residue.
Rebecca

Make your voice heard in dry eye research!

Dry Eye Patient Priorities and Outcomes Survey

This survey is being conducted by the Cochrane Eyes and Vision Group US Satellite at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, USA. 

Dry eye occurs when the quantity and/or quality of tears fails to keep the surface of the eye adequately lubricated. For more details about dry eye, please visit the National Eye Institute (NEI) website on dry eye. 

The overall objectives of this survey are to set priorities for new research related to management of dry eye and to identify outcomes that patients consider important. We have already surveyed doctors who manage patients with dry eye. Now, to find out what is important to patients, we are surveying patients with dry eye, like yourself.

 

Password = dryeye
 
We anticipate this survey may take you up to 30 minutes to complete. Please complete this survey by Tuesday November 21, 2017.

We greatly value your participation and thank you in advance for being part of this important research!

Rebecca Petris (The Dry Eye Company)
Ian Saldanha, MBBS, MPH, PhD (Cochrane Eyes and Vision, Johns Hopkins University)
Esen Akpek, MD (Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins University)
Kay Dickersin, MA, PhD (Cochrane Eyes and Vision, Johns Hopkins University)

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Back again

Wow - I haven't blogged since Dry Eye Awareness Month back in July, when I sat down to long gluttonous sessions of writing to compensate myself for all the writing I couldn't do in 2016+.

Happy to be getting back in the saddle, yet again! This time around, I am planning to work on some specific topic series, in case anyone's interested.

I won't, of course, post every day but for whatever I do manage the post, here is what will happen when:

Mondays

News/Research/Etc: Industry news
Product talk: NIGHT protection

Tuesdays

News/Research/Etc: Recent studies
Product talk: SCLERALS & PROSE

Wednesdays

News/Research/Etc: Clinical trial status updates
Product talk: LUBRICANTS (OTC drops, gels, ointments etc)

Thursdays

News/Research/Etc: Recent studies
Product talk: OPTICAL (dry eye glasses & sunglasses)

Fridays

News/Research/Etc: TFOS DEWS II report highlights
Product talk: LIDS (scrubs, compresses etc)

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Managing nighttime symptoms of dry eye



In this Dry Eye Awareness Month series of posts, I've been trying to avoid re-hashing well known or readily available information, focusing instead on the patient-friendly angles that just don't get covered. But in practical things like night protection, I find that the 'information spread' is so large that I don't want to make assumptions... what's old hat to many patients is completely unknown to many others who could benefit. So, for night dry eye, I'm going to start by framing it with some key principles.

Fundamentals of night management


  • Eyelid care: For bleph/MGD sufferers, warm compresses and lid hygiene just before bed can help with better nights. 
  • Environmental issues: Ceiling fans, heat and A/C are lethal. If they can't be avoided altogether due to factors like climate and partner preferences, then they have to be compensated for aggressively with other forms of physical protection. Finally, in low humidity climates, a humidifier may be necessary, but don't use one unless you're prepared to keep it clean.
  • Lubrication: Do you have a good enough lubricant that is lasting long enough?
  • Physical barrier protection is KEY! Most people with severe symptoms benefit from some type of mask, shield, goggle, patch, or other physical protection at night. This is especially critical if their lids don't fully seal during sleep, but it is definitely not only people with poor lid closure that benefit. 

Goop?


Circling back to an ancient debate about whether ointments are good or bad. Personally, I don't particularly care about the principle of the thing all that much anymore. Seems to me that what works, works, and what doesn't, doesn't. I mean, in theory, I think ointments (i.e. petrolatum and mineral oil in varying proportions, depending which brand of a product with "PM" in its name you choose) are acknowledged by many to be not the greatest idea, in that grease effectively prevents liquid, in this case tears, from reaching the surface it's slathered on, so the eyes don't get the nourishment they need and deserve. But in real life, it's all about what actually works for real people. I have known so many people for so long who always do best with ointment at night. On the other hand, there are those whose eyes do get worse over time when they use ointment nightly, but who may have simply assumed it was disease progression and never questioned whether something they're using might actually be irritating their eyes in some way.

So to me, the bottom line is:
  1. Questioning is always good. 
  2. Understand your choices, including the non-lubricant aspects of night dry eye care.

Physical barrier protection


At my DryEyeShop business, a great deal of our phone time is spent in what we call 'night consultations': troubleshooting how best to help someone protect their eyes at night. 

It's really quite a challenge at times to find tools that will accommodate all the different types of constraints that may be in play, and address them well enough for someone to be able to live with it every night. Consider the following variables:
  • Sleep style (back, side, stomach)
  • Material sensitivities (latex, silicone, plastics, foams)
  • Tolerance for things touching the lids while sleeping
  • Skin type and conditions (edema, easily impressible, sensitive)
  • Size and fit issues (large hat size, large orbits, very small head, eyes close together, extremely long lashes, very prominent eyes, very deep set eyes)
  • Eyelid conditions (damage, scarring, missing parts of lids)
  • CPAP usage (full face, nasal pillow, strap configurations)
  • Non-closing eyelids (abrasion risk depending on sleep style? Do we force the lids down or simply vault them and keep the eyes safely sealed in?)
  • Major asymmetries in the facial bone structure
  • Strap constraints (scars, tumors, any scalp irregularities that could pose issues)
  • Medical constraints (can we seal completely or must it be vented?)
  • General safety (ensuring patient can see to prevent falls during the night)
  • Corneal safety (patient rubbing hands in eyes, or eyes on pillow during sleep? How to balance comfort with keeping something securely in place?)
  • Costs (is there a home-made version? A lower-cost alternative? How often does it have to be replaced? Are there parts that have to be replaced periodically?)
  • Maintenance (does it involve too many steps for someone with severe arthritis? Too delicate for someone with Parkinsons?) 
  • Et cetera....

WOW. That's actually the first time I have done a rapid-fire stream-of-consciousness list on that topic, and it turned out even longer than I expected it to! It's not exhaustive, either — every single case is different. I could spend weeks writing up all different types of situations we've encountered and tried to find solutions for over the years. I can't address them all in the blog here, but I will tackle a few of the broader issues that come up frequently.

Incidentally, while I don't want to use the blog to push people to my shop, I do want to mention that consulting on these things is always free, and encompasses not just what we sell, but everything we know is available, so feel free to call to brainstorm solutions! We're at 877-693-7939.

What to do when your lids don't close


This is probably the single most common issue that comes up: People whose eyelids don't close need protection to ensure the corneal surface doesn't dry out. Situations range from relatively mild — where one naturally has a small opening between the lids during sleep (not normally a big problem until/unless you also have dry eye!) — to botched blepharoplasties where there might be a slightly wider opening — to wide openings due to facial palsies, damage to eyelid muscles, injuries and so on.

So the first and most basic decision is this:

Do I attempt to force the lids to close?


It has been my experience that if there is any way you can avoid forcing the lids closed, you should — for the very simple reason that forcing the lids down will usually make it harder to sleep, especially in severe cases. There just aren't all that many ways to force the lids down that are comfortable enough to endure all night.

There are lots of exceptions, and one of the most prominent of the exceptions is people who also have recurrent corneal erosions, where immobilizing the eyelids can be very helpful by preventing the sudden eyelid movements that so often precipitate erosions. People with extremely severe aqueous deficient dry eye plus exposure from poor lid closure sometimes also find nothing will protect them adequately short of taping them down.

...Or do I use a sealed moisture chamber?


The idea here is to seal in the eye area to improve humidity around the eye, reduce evaporative tear loss and eliminate any air movement. This may be all that's needed, along with of course an appropriate lubricant.

This is often the most practical route and there are far more choices available, from patches to shields, goggles and masks, whether they have been designed for the purpose or they can be appropriated for the purpose. That's where so many of the issues on my list come into play in the selection and nearly inevitable trial-and-error processes.

CPAP?


Shield/goggle compatibility: One of my must-do-in-2017-if-at-all-possible projects is to come up with a definitive list of compatibility between all the most commonly used CPAP masks and the commonly used night protection products (Onyix/Quartz, Tranquileyes, EyeSeals, and others). I can often, but not always, tell by looking at pictures online what will fit with what but, depending on the exact strap configuration, in many cases it depends on where exactly the straps rest on someone's face.

Clear, opaque, inside, outside? There are so often more complications... is it possible given the strap configuration to put the dry eye shield on last, or must it go on first, and if the latter, is it available in a clear version, and if not, how on earth do you manage? Then there are partner complications: you really need something opaque because your partner keeps the light or TV on forever, but your shield will only fit underneath your mask, meaning if you get up in the night you have to completely disentangle yourself from everything. There is so much to all this! Including things like the...

Rare but notable possibility in stubborn cases: There are documented cases of CPAP-related dry eye problems occurring not from a leaky mask blowing onto the eye surface externally, but rather from a mask on a high setting forcing air up through the nasolacrimal duct onto the eye through the puncta.

Stomach sleeper?


Another of the fairly common problems, but hard to solve in a way that someone can get comfortable sleeping. I'm not going to get into lots of detail here (if you're interested, you might want to glance at the little article I wrote about it for the shop) but I'll just touch on the key principles in play:

Any solution used for stomach sleepers with dry eye needs to take account of the following:
  • It must be capable of preventing anything from touching the lids or eyes — either stiff enough or vaulting the eyes high enough or both. 
  • It must have a means of securing it in such a way that it can't easily be dislodged.
  • It needs to be comfortable enough to, you know, sleep.

Recurrent corneal erosions?


RCE has been a big hobby horse of mine for years. An awful lot of people with RCE do not get diagnosed properly until it's gone on a long time. Often they have visited several doctors, sometimes even including multiple corneal specialists, before diagnosis. Even when they do get diagnosed, they don't always get treatment specific to the condition. Recurrent Corneal Erosions are a condition that can happen with, or without, dry eye. (What makes it yet more confusing is that erosions can occur when there is severe dry eye, but that's different from RCE as a disorder.)

If you experience episodes of sharp pains in the middle of the night or first thing in the morning in one or both eyes, accompanied by tearing and blurred vision, please talk to your doctor about it. It can't hurt to ask.



Sunday, July 23, 2017

Managing daytime symptoms of dry eye



Today's focus


Today's post is aimed at people who are plagued a lot of the day by really substantial daytime symptoms: burning, grittiness, light sensitivity, and other forms of discomfort.

This post is not about medical treatments at all, though. The assumption is that you're working on addressing medical aspects as best you can. Instead, this is focused on practical measures you can take to manage symptoms in parallel with medical treatments.

What's your pattern?


Some people start out their days in pretty good shape, but their comfort and vision slowly degrade through the day. 

For others, symptoms are entirely driven by specific environments and activities; for example, their hard times are at the office, driving, or during computer use, or outdoors in cold weather.

Some people really don't have bad symptoms during the day and can get by with just drops — their real challenge is nights. (I'll be writing about that tomorrow.)

Repeat after me: moisture chambers.


I've been beating this drum for more years than I can remember. The reason I'm such an inveterate fan is that moisture chambers help most people with severe symptoms and really can't cause any harm. There's a lot to like about that combination.
  • What are moisture chambers? Glasses or sunglasses that have some kind of added or built-in shield (foam, silicone, etc.) closing the gap between the frame and their face.
  • What's the benefit? (1) Proofing against wind, vents, fans, and moving air in general, which all break up the tear film more quickly; (2) allowing humidity to build up immediately around the eyes; (3) keeping out infiltrates, allergens, etc. The net effect tends to be greater overall comfort with less need for constant lubrication. That's why moisture chambers are a staple for dry eye veterans.
  • Outdoor use: 7Eye AirShields and WileyX Climate Control are the main contenders. Both brands have many different framestyles available and both sport a removable vented foam eyecup. 7Eye shields tend to be deeper than WileyX. For reference, these brands are $100-200 - you can definitely find much cheaper alternatives with built-in foam, in the $20-50 range. There are additional high end brands like Rudy Project.
  • Indoors: This is where it gets tricky, because all of the foam-lined moisture chambers like the sports optical types look like goggles if you put clear lenses in them. Ziena Eyewear is really the only brand on the market designed specifically for dry eye and with a view to being reasonably discreet. But you can also get custom moisture chambers made for some conventional glasses — they're just very expensive.
  • Need Rx? High-end moisture chambers are all Rx-friendly (7Eye, WileyX, Rudy Project, Ziena), though there are limits to how high the prescriptions can go. Some frames take a special high-Rx adaptor.
  • Over Rx? This is a great way to test the concept before laying out a huge wad of cash on prescription moisture chambers. We have some options at dryeyeshop.com but you can also find them readily on Amazon.
  • Cost? How long is a piece of string? You can find cheap ones ($20, Walmart, Amazon etc). Non-prescription quality ones run $100 to $200. With prescription lenses, you're looking at more like $300-500, more probably for progressives combined with special coatings. 

Humidification?


People living in very dry climates almost certainly need humidifiers at home and work. Some people also use car humidifiers, especially those who drive for a profession, and office workers sometimes use personal humidifiers at their desk.

Are you over-dropping?

  • Constant dropping: Doctors' opinions will vary, so ask yours. But some people who put in drops more often than every hour or two may find themselves less rather than more comfortable.
  • Sensitivities: Pay attention to how you are feeling in relation to the time after drops go in. People can develop sensitivities to common polymers in artificial tears and sometimes it never occurs to them that the drops that feel good going in might actually be contributing to discomfort with constant use. Switch things up, get something with a totally different active ingredient if your drops are feeling less comfortable.
  • Autologous serum: When all commercial artificial tears just seem to make you worse, look into autologous serum, even if only as a way to take a 'drug holiday' for a while from conventional drops.
  • WHY are you dropping? Many dry eye patients use eyedrops not so much for lubrication as for sensation management. That is, it's not because they're dry, it's because they're uncomfortable or in pain. This is a very important distinction. Those who have severe aqueous deficient dry eye really do have to be very careful to keep lubricated, for the health of their cornea, but those whose primary issues are discomfort rather than dryness per se also have the option to use alternative approaches to comfort... like cold compresses and moisture chambers. 

Are you focusing too much on nights?


I come across people sometimes who are putting all of their effort into maxing out moisture overnight, but whose main problems are actually occurring during the day (at least based on what comes out in conversation). Improving moisture during the night is great and will set you up to start the day in better shape, but in terms of setting reasonable expectations, that approach won't necessarily stretch very far into the day. It's important to make sure you're addressing symptoms at the time they're happening.

Cold compresses, chilled drops


Cold compresses are great for corneal pain, and also for inflammation and redness. Incidentally, just because you are doing warm compresses to treat MGD does not mean you can't also use cold compresses for pain management. I remember first hearing about chilled drops back in the early days when Dr Latkany in New York was practically the only one really popularizing the idea of a dry eye specialist. Cold drops were one of his common tips that many people picked up on.

How about a mid-day re-boot?


For those whose symptoms progress steadily downhill throughout the day, a half-hour break to baby them somewhere along the way can be very helpful.

15-30 minutes of shut-eye with a cold wet compress — anything from a wet cloth over a gelpack to the luxurious Tranquileyes XL Advanced kits — can do the trick.

PROSE, Sclerals


People who cannot get comfortable or functional at all during the day, even with maxed-out medical treatment and moisture chamber glasses, are probably going to want to investigate PROSE/sclerals.


Saturday, July 22, 2017

Getting peer support for dry eye



It's Saturday! This post will be yet shorter and sweeter than the last, and then I'm headed to the movies with my daughter!

Local support groups


There are, unfortunately, very, very few local support groups specifically for dry eye. The only long-term group that I know of, in fact, is the wonderful Orange County Dry Eye Support Group in the LA area. I am hoping that, somewhere in the 2017-2018 timeframe, I'll be able to move forward with my longtime dream to be part of organizing a national network of dry eye support groups.

Meantime, the best resource for local groups is the Sjogrens Syndrome Foundation. (Obviously, many, probably most of you don't have Sjogrens, but their groups are the closest thing there is, since most people with Sjogrens Syndrome have dry eye.)

The SSF local support groups they have are treasure troves of practical information on who the best local dry eye doctors are, and which doctors are attuned to the needs of specific disease groups (Sjogrens, obviously, but others too), and doctors who are equipped for specialty treatments such as autologous serum drops, Lipiflow, etc.

But just the ability to meet up, in person, with other people who understand your situation and may have practical pointers about coping and daily management, is huge. 


Social media blessings and curses



There are the Dry Eye Talk forums, and Sjogrens World, and probably many others by now that I don't even know about.

There are Facebook groups - DryEyeTalk, "Dry Eye, Blepharitis, MGD, Corneal Neuralgia", Dry Eye Syndrome Support Community (run by a couple of ODs) and more. Facebook groups don't lend themselves to the kind of in-depth discussions and archive prowling that forums do, but they're great for immediate connection and feedback.

The BLESSINGS of social media include:
  • Validation! Immediate connections with people who get it. This is really important.
  • Support! Kind voices that will not minimize your experience.
  • Practical tips! A great deal of the lifestyle management information you need and which cannot be had anywhere else.
  • Information! Tons of quite good information on diagnosis, treatment and management that, again, you may not be able to get anywhere else.
The CURSES of social media include:
  • An over-abundance of dry eye paraphernalia-peddling predators (ooooh, that was a really fun term to coin!). They come in many guises, including doctors and patients. They usually come bearing supplements. They exploit the vulnerable.
  • The illusion of understanding trends, especially treatment failures. Hearing similar voices and reading similar experiences online often gives you a completely unrealistic pseudo-insight into what's normal. It's all too easy to think a certain treatment "doesn't work" just because 15 people have dissed it on Facebook in the last 36 hours. One must always bear in mind that only people with a problem post in these forums... all the ones that got better and went away, or at any rate had a successful treatment course, are invisible. You cannot get anything but a heavily skewed perspective on macro trends in a Facebook group.
  • Unhealthy addiction and way too much screen time, which is a bad thing when you have dry eye.
  • All kinds of really, really, really bad ideas about the 'natural' things you should put in your eyes that are "safer" than drugs. I don't like drugs either, but-but-but be reasonable, people :)

Getting good dry eye care


It's the weekend, and I'm a day late anyway, so I'm going to keep this short and sweet! Well, relatively.

A couple of "oldies but goodies"....


Many years ago I wrote a couple of lengthy articles about dry eye medical care, particularly as regards navigating dry-eye specific pitfalls of the doctor-patient relationship. There have been a lot of changes in the dry eye world since then, but there is still a great deal in those articles that's directly relevant to patient needs today, so I decided to post the links here.

How to get better care from your dry eye doctor, covering:
  • Is my current eye doctor worth investing in?
  • How are my goals and measuring sticks different from my doctor's?
  • What should I expect, or not, from my doctor?
  • What is my doctor expecting from me?
  • How do I bridge communication gaps?
  • Resolve to be a Truly Great Dry Eye Patient
  • Consider both MDs and ODs
  • Determine what you want, or rather need, from a new doctor
  • Where and how to look, and whether to travel to a specialist
  • Preparing for the first appointment

Navigating current trends


Things are changing all the time. Treatments that hardly anyone even knew about ten years ago are being kicked around online frequently and while they definitely aren't all being scouted in non-specialist eye care practices, awareness is clearly on the rise. Demographics are also putting heavy pressure on eye care practitioners to bone up on the latest and greatest dry eye tools.

Each change brings its own issues along for the ride, of course. I'm going to highlight here random current issues to supplement the previous articles.

The "Dry Eye Specialist" phenomenon and how to beat it


In the aftermath of the 2008 recession, which drained Americans' discretionary income for things like LASIK, a curious trend followed. Clinics that primarily advertised as laser surgery centers in the past gradually began hanging out a new shingle. The wording varied, but the bottom line was they were starting to tout themselves as a the local go-to dry eye clinic. This trend continued and picked up speed in ensuing years, fueled by things like demographics, Lipiflow emerging as a much-needed replacement cash cow, and increasingly demanding consumers who are suffering enough to not settle for the "Ye Olde Schirmer, Plug-n-Drop, oh, and Restasis too because we might as well" school of dry eye diagnosis and treatment.

Unfortunately a lot of these new self-described dry eye specialists and dry eye clinics really don't offer much more than increased advertising. Step right up, folks, get your Xiidra script here!

Would the real dry eye specialists please stand up?

Technically, there's no such thing (it's not a formal subspecialty as far as I know), so anyone can label themselves a specialist. Trying to find a truly helpful doctor is extremely challenging unless you already know the dry eye landscape and its craters quite well AND are social media savvy.

My rules of thumb have always been that many people can benefit from a really smart optometrist on their team for regular visits, because optometrists by and large are more accessible and will spend more time with you than most ophthalmologists. But you also want a good cornea specialist ophthalmologist with a specific professional/scientific (as opposed to financial) emphasis on dry eye, particularly when you're in the worst stages and/or don't yet have a really super-thorough and accurate diagnosis, and also if you have special medical needs.

Finding the right kind of optometrist is all about hunting on social media, unless you're lucky enough to have access to the pooled knowledge of a good local support group. Finding a cornea specialist ophthalmologist? Scour the resumes. The problem with cornea specialists is that a significant majority aren't actually interested in corneal disease. They're interested in corneal surgery, probably refractive (take a bow, LASIK industry, you have transformed the profession). The ophthalmologist gem you are looking for is a cornea specialist that really digs disease, as opposed to just snatching at and sporting the dry eye diagnostics and treatments du jour as announced from a podium somewhere.

The "Micro-Manage Your Doctor" trend


So here's another thing I'm seeing more of these days. The hyper-educated patient who goes to their doctor with a lengthy shopping list of (a) tests they want done, (b) potential diagnoses they want to discuss, and (c) potential treatment options they want full-on support for, including but not limited to drugs (manufactured and compounded), devices, surgeries, consumer products, dietary plans and oh yes a long litany of dietary supplements.

I am absolutely all for educated patients and partnering with our doctors.

But... moderation in everything, folks. 



Thursday, July 20, 2017

Dry Eye - Practical Prevention Pointers (2 of 2)


Yesterday's tips were focused on recognizing dry eye symptoms for what they are (or might be), and getting ahead of them with some purely practical prevention pointers. Today, we're going to shift to prevention tips for navigating some medical stuff.


Don't hurt yourself through ignorance...

...about drops, drugs, devices and surgeries.


The fact is, a great many medical treatments, drugs (ocular and systemic), and surgeries involving the eyes and lids CAUSE dry eyes - sometimes mild, sometimes temporary, but also sometimes severe and sometimes chronic or permanent. Getting dry eye at all, in any form, is lousy. Getting a really nasty, persistent, life-altering form of dry eye and knowing it was preventable is truly the pits. 

There are far too many forms of medically-induced dry eye (also called 'iatrogenic' dry eye) for me to cover here, so I'm just going to hit on a FEW frequent offenders that should be emphasized. Iatrogenic dry eye is actually such a big topic that the international medical consensus project known as TFOS DEWS II, whose 10-year report is about to be published, had an entire subcommittee and massive chapter focus just on this!


OTC Drop Shopping Tips


Look for eye drops with these things on the label:
  • Preservative-Free. Almost anything preservative-free, by the way, will come in a box of 30 or more individual vials. Waste of plastic? Sure. On the other hand, preservatives (i.e. what makes it possible to put eyedrops in a bottle) are toxic to the cornea. So pick your poison.
  • Lubricant Eye Drop (or geldrop). 
  • Alternatively, homeopathic drops. For mild dry eye or ocular allergy symptoms, they can be helpful without posing the types of risks medicated drops may introduce.

Try to avoid purchasing any of the following eye drops for regular use:
  • Redness relievers (vasoconstrictors). These are doubly damaging to the cornea. First, they have a rebound redness factor when used repeatedly, and second, they are usually preserved with benzalkonium chloride, which is quite toxic to the cornea. If you must use redness relievers, do so infrequently — save them for special occasions. *BUYER BEWARE*: There are many 'combo' drops on the market these days, and they get terribly confusing because they also claim to be lubricants. Just don't buy things with a redness reliever ingredient.
  • Antihistamine (allergy) drops, except for brief use, or unless you're seeing an eye doctor, in which case they'll probably want to put you on a better, prescription allergy drop anyway. That's *if* you really do have ocular allergies — because maybe your eyes are itchy due to dryness, after all! But as I was saying, antihistamine drops are drying, and again, have toxic preservatives. That's true of both OTC and Rx allergy drops. If you've got to use one, use  the one that works the best.
  • Eyewashes and salines, except for your first aid kit. Look out for preservatives. Don't overuse anything like this - they may be wet, but they have no lubricating properties and they dilute your precious tear film, which you can't do too terribly often without paying for it.


Rx Drop Awareness Tips


TOP TIP: Avoid using anything preserved on a daily basis for longer than a month if possible. If you have to, talk to your doctor about the preservative side effects and if it's possible to get a preservative-free version.
  • Glaucoma drops, historically, are top offenders. They have to be taken daily, and daily exposure to the most toxic preservatives can be a big dry eye contributor. There are many preservative-free glaucoma drops now, and ones with milder preservatives. Make sure you have the preservative talk with your glaucoma doctor.
  • Steroid drops and antibiotic drops are two more commonly used classes of eyedrops that are usually preserved with the most toxic preservative (benzalkonium chloride). If you don't need to be on them long, you will probably not want to bother worrying about it, but if for any reason you need to stay on them longer than a conventional course lasts, talk to your doctor about preservative side effect concerns, including dryness.


Drug Awareness Facts


Oodles and gazoodles of drugs are, or at any rate may be, drying. So it gets tricky talking about them ("Fine, but now that I know that, what do I do?"). With drugs in general, there is no free lunch, and it's all about navigating the tradeoffs. But the aspect I would want to emphasize is that IF you know you are at dry eye risk for other reasons, AND the drug you need to take is on the dry eye-causing spectrum, it's worth a conversation with the prescribing doctor about your concerns, drug selection and alternatives, and dosage. For example, there are a ton of antidepressants on the market, and while not all of them may be appropriate for you, you can at least raise the dry eye side effect potential with your doctor and ask them for help to pin down those suitable for you that are less frequently associated with dry eye.

Top dry eye offender drug categories (in random order):
  • Antihistamines
  • Nasal decongestants
  • Blood pressure medications (beta blockers, diuretics)
  • Antidepressants
  • Antipsychotics
  • Parkinsons drugs
  • Hormone therapy; oral contraceptives
  • Acne medications
  • Sleeping pills
  • Pain relievers


Device hangup: CPAP and APAP


At the Dry Eye Shop we talk constantly with people whose eyes are dried out by their CPAP masks — they call, often after referral by their doctor, to get advice on shields, masks, or patches they could use to protect their eyes. CPAP is in such common usage, and has been for so long, that it is absolutely staggering to me how many people still struggle for a long time with this before someone finally tells them there are solutions and even products made specifically to help with it.

It would be nice if everyone could get a CPAP mask that fit perfectly and didn't leak, but till then, physical protection for the eyes, even if only a strip of plastic wrap, is very important for many CPAP users.



Surgery hangup #1: LASIK, et cetera


July 20th, 2017 - today! - is my 16th 'laserversary'... a term many of us who experienced laser surgery complications in the old days coined for a memorable day that we don't exactly celebrate. As you might imagine, I'm not a terribly big fan. No regrets about my own experience, because it ended up determining a new course for my life that gives me a great deal of fulfillment every day, but because it came at a high cost to vision and comfort, I would never recommend it for someone else.

Among the many things on the scale stacked up against LASIK, the dry eye risk features prominently, and all the more so because no one who gets LASIK has any idea how bad post LASIK dry eye can be when it's bad. 

Top illusions to avoid suckering to:
  • That you can escape this risk by going to the best, most reputable surgeon in your area. (Naw. We all did that too.)
  • That technology has improved so much this doesn't happen anymore.
  • That dry eye treatments are so good it doesn't matter.
  • That if you already have dry eye, a little increase doesn't matter. (Actually, it might mean the difference between dry eye and DRY EYE.)
  • That the worst that could happen is you need eyedrops or Restasis or Xiidra or plugs.
  • That your surgeon will be will equipped to help you through any ensuing dryness. (LASIK surgeons and dry eye specialists just don't normally come under the same label.)


Surgery hangup #2: Elective eyelid surgeries (blepharoplasty)


There is a particularly painful version of dry eye that comes sometimes with blepharoplasty - specifically, when the lids come up too short.

Top tips for lowering risk:
  • Seek only an oculoplastic surgeon, NEVER a plastic surgeon, no matter how qualified! Oculoplastic surgeons are ophthalmologists who do surgery on the eyelids. General plastic surgeons don't have enough specialized knowledge of the tear system.
  • Get a complete, detailed dry eye workup with a specialist before a blepharoplasty, to see if you have any pre-existing dry eye or dry eye risk factors that could make you unusually vulnerable to dry eye side effects.


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Dry Eye - Practical Prevention Pointers (1 of 2)


Today's post is for you if:

  • You have no dry eye symptoms (so far as you know), OR
  • You have mild dry eye symptoms 
Today's (and tomorrow's, for that matter) will be bit of a hodgepodge of the kinds of tips I wish everyone without dry eye knew, for prevention purposes. Enjoy!

Recognizing early symptoms (hint: dry does not mean dry!)


  • Watery eyes. Sounds counterintuitive for "dry" eyes to be excessively wet, which is why so many people don't realize that they have dry eye! The answer lies in the type of tears. The ordinary top coating of the eye is what's called basal tears, which are a combination of water, oil to prevent evaporation, and mucous to help them adhere to the surface of the eye, plus lots of other goodies. Basal tears are there to sharpen vision, keep you comfortable and protect and nourish the eye surfaces. But if your basal tear layer is lacking in some way, the eye surface gets drier and irritated and signals the brain to tell the lacrimal glands to pump out some emergency tears (called reflex tears) — to re-wet the eye and if necessary to wash out whatever dirt got in — though that might just be because the dryness sensation makes it think there is actual grit. These reflex tears are what you experience on a windy day. They do NOT have all the extra goodies; they're mostly water. The more of them you produce, the less comfortable your eyes will be - similar to when you have a long cry and your eyes are sore and feel 'stripped' afterwards. All that to say, if your eyes are watery more frequently than normal and in more circumstances, dry eye could be the reason. (It's not the only reason; you could have blocked tear ducts. But either way, get thee to a good eye doctor.)

  • Feels like something's in my eye: Formally known as foreign body sensation.... Of course, there might actually be something there. But a frequent or chronic sensation of this kind is quite common with dry eye. If it's this kind of 'phantom' foreign body feeling and there's no debris visible, keep some preservative-free lubricant eye drops handy and avoid using water or saline to wash out your eyes, because those will actually make it worse, by washing the better part of your tears away. Water and saline should be reserved for true debris-in-the-eye emergencies.

  • Eye allergies  (classic signs: redness and itching). An immediate clarification needed here... I am not saying that eye allergies are a symptom of dry eye. They're two different things. But they overlap a lot and sometimes pose chicken-or-the-egg dilemmas; so if you have, or have been told you have, ocular allergies, make sure you have a conversation with an eye doctor about dry eye as well. An eye with allergies going on is going to tend to be drier (did I mention that antihistamines, by the way, are very, very drying?). On the other hand, a dry eye, that is, an eye that does not have a good solid healthy basal tear layer, is more vulnerable to allergens and environmental stresses in general. Incidentally, most allergy eye drops, both over-the-counter and prescription versions, are preserved with a toxic preservative called benzalkonium chloride, which is also drying. Can't escape! 

  • Inflamed, red, or scaly eyelid margins: I'm talking about where the base of your eyelashes are. If you see these as being irritated first thing in the morning, any chronic redness or soreness or if they're looking a bit scaly or you have 'eyelash dandruff', you should visit an eye doctor and have a conversation about blepharitis or (longer name, broader category) meibomian gland dysfunction. Meibomian glands secrete oil through little orifices all along the base of the lashes. The most common type of dry eye is NOT when your tear production is decreased — it's when your oil production is decreased because of chronically clogged oil glands. If you don't get enough oil into your tear film, your tears evaporate too fast, which has the same effect as if you didn't produce enough in the first place.

  • Light sensitivity, especially in conjunction with other symptoms like the ones above or with tired, achy eyes or gritty, dry feeling eyes, is another common sign of dry eye.

  • Contact lens intolerance. This should probably head the list, but it's the one everyone dreads — no one wants to anticipate the day when they can't wear contacts any more. (Though truthfully, these days, there really are some good dry eye-friendly options with some of the newer scleral lenses coming on the market.) Contact lens discomfort is often because of increasing dryness and should not be ignored. Just quitting wearing contacts doesn't mean the problem's fixed, either. 


Simple, easy prevention suggestions


  • Don't abuse contact lenses. Be compliant with all contact lens care steps; never wear contacts overnight; don't continue wearing them when they're getting too uncomfortable; and report any symptoms to your eye doctor.

  • Pay attention to symptoms. It's easy to ignore mild things that don't seem like any big deal. With dry eye, though, sometimes those 'mild' symptoms can be masking a brewing condition like meibomian gland dysfunction that may, down the road, turn into a much more uncomfortable form. Get ahead of things, discuss them with your eye doctor early on. Speaking of which:

  • See an eye doctor for regular exams, not just for glasses and contacts or emergencies, and ask questions if you have any symptoms. Don't expect them to flag mild dry eye issues without prompting. Talk to them about mild symptoms, ask if they can do a bit of a workup of your tear system, and if they have any prevention recommendations. 

  • Take extra precautions when using the computer for long stretches. With dryness, it's all about the blink. Eyelids pump tears out; eyelids spread tears around; and eyelids keep part or all of the surface covered, reducing evaporative tear loss. The less you blink, the drier you are, by definition. My computer suggestions?
    • Blink more.
    • Keep hydrated.
    • Keep your monitor as low as ergonomically acceptable.
    • Adjust your screen lighting if necessary. Try handy tools like justgetflux.com. 

  • Protect your peepers from low humidity and wind by wearing wraparound sports-style eyewear. There are many that have a slim lining of foam that helps with additional wind-proofing. The closer the fit, the higher the humidity immediately in front of your eyes will be. 

  • Keep your lids squeaky clean. Inadequate eyelid hygiene plays a role in blepharitis. 

  • Do a gentle warm compress nightly before bed, like a gel pack or rice baggy. 

  • Protect your peepers during sleep — another low tear production time — by using a sleep mask, especially if you have air conditioning, heating, or ceiling fans going. 

  • Supplement with Omega 3s. They're good for you in so many ways, and eyelid / oil gland health is one of those many.


Part 2 of Dry Eye Awareness Month: Getting help


Deamdez5


The second of our three-part series on dry eye is all about getting help for dry eye.

Topics I'll be writing about for the next 7 days:
  1. Practical Prevention (1 of 2)
  2. Practical Prevention (2 of 2)
  3. Getting good care
  4. Getting peer support
  5. Managing daytime symptoms
  6. Managing nighttime symptoms
  7. Recognizing and addressing mental health impact

Dry Eye and Mental Health


"dry eye" vs. DRY EYE


For the benefit of those scratching their heads over the dry eye and mental health connection, I thought I ought to preface this post with, once more, the distinction between mild, irritating-but-not-life-altering dry eye symptoms, and the type of full-on dry eye situation that sends your OSDI scores rocketing and can so easily send your life into a tailspin when things aren't able to be brought under control within a reasonable amount of time.

Dry eye in all caps — and bear in mind I'm speaking in terms of symptom severity (i.e. what I experience), rather than clinical severity (i.e. what my doctor observes / test results), since they do so often diverge — is a completely different beast than the dry eye that just means putting in drops now and then.

DRY EYE is a high impact disease cloaked in a trivial-sounding name.

Depression is par for the course.


I find myself constantly wanting to reassure people who are engulfed by depression that this is normal when you're at a certain stage in a major DRY EYE journey.

Now, if I seem to get a bit pedantic, circling back over and over to underscore definitions and distinctions, it's because some things really are frequently and stubbornly subject to misunderstanding — hence I am not going to bother apologizing for being repetitive. 

So, first of all, when I say a major dry eye journey, I'm talking about major symptoms and major life impact, with or without an equally severe clinical condition identified by the eye doctor. Of course, the presence, and even more, the absence of major clinical conditions will play into the depression equation in their own special ways, but my real point is that many dry eye symptoms, when intense enough and/or persistent enough, are more than enough to routinely plunge people pretty far into depression. 

Secondly, when I say depression, I'm not talking about feeling low for awhile — I'm talking about something more akin to major depressive disorder. Something that takes you down — way down, in a big way, and for a considerable period of time. A major life event, in fact.

Suicidal ideation is common.


I don't know that I even have anything more to say about this than the simple fact of it. I think that it's vital for all those who are experiencing it to know that, no, it's NOT just them, and no, it has NOTHING to do with them coping poorly. This is a shared, common experience for which there are sound reasons.

And here are some reasons.


I think of it as a dry eye crisis, brought on by the cumulative impact of several factors at once. Which combination of factors, of course, varies, but there are threads in common.

The crisis comes at different times for different people, and can recur. One common pattern is a relatively sudden onset of massive dry eye symptoms that quickly escalate in spite of (and perhaps occasionally because of) a whole slate of treatments thrown at them in the early months. After the first three or four doctors and several months of increasing struggles, it's hard to avoid starting to panic about the future. Another scenario is someone who has had significant dry eye, clinically, for years, and been on many treatments, but only recently had a worsening of their symptoms that has just become too much to cope with when coupled with a worsening prognosis.

The specifics and timeline vary for everyone, but the common factor is the global impact on the person, particularly their mental health.

Here are a variety of factors I commonly come across in interacting with dry eye patients — physical, emotional, practical, medical, financial — that I believe all can contribute to the escalation of anxiety and depression in people with dry eye. This is not an exhaustive list.

  • Pain. Note: I use this term very broadly to encompass dry eye sensations that many people would not necessarily class as pain, but which have the same effect. For example, constant burning, grittiness, etc. — in general sensations that go away only when your eyes are closed, at best. Chronic pain in general is well known to be associated with depression. Meantime, the cornea (the tissue most affected by dry eye) has more densely packed nerves than almost any other human tissue. It is designed to hurt — a lot — when under siege.

  • Loss of sleep. Many people with night dry eye wake up repeatedly through the night to apply additional lubricants, or are woken up by eye pain. Fear of going to sleep is a powerful factor for many, too, especially those with recurrent corneal erosions.

  • Impact on common daily activities. Many people with dry eye cannot use a computer, read, or do other close work for long, and find their hobbies interfered with. Outdoor activities become much more difficult due to pain from wind, and also (for many) light sensitivity.

  • Restricted driving. Ability to drive may be limited to a small range due to pain from air conditioning and heating. When vision is impacted, driving may not be possible at all.

  • Impact on work performance. Office environments and jobs with any adverse environment (outdoors, or indoors with low relative humidity) can impair basic work efficiencies. Many workplaces are not friendly to the concept of accommodations, and some patients cannot safely discuss medical issues with their employers.

  • Fear of job loss.

  • High cost of treatment. Many of the most common treatments are not covered by insurance and are very expensive. Most dry eye patients have to use a great deal of over-the-counter products, which are also out-of-pocket expenses that add up quickly.

  • Generalized financial fears. As dry eye goes on, and particularly if symptoms are continuing to worsen, there may be a broad fear of the future due to the likelihood of decreased ability to work and increased medical costs.

  • Symptoms not quantified. The perception that it's all 'subjective' leads to a host of problems, from minimizing their significance in general to failing to diagnose correctly. There are scientifically validated instruments available to quantify symptoms, but few patients know of them and they are still used infrequently in clinical practice.

  • Counterproductive nomenclature. "Dry eye" is with us forever, but... as I argued recently in another post, "dry eye" is a terribly trivializing misnomer affecting how patients think about themselves and how effectively they can communicate about their experiences with everyone from their eye doctors to their employers to their personal support system. 

  • Misdiagnosis (and associated inappropriate treatments).

  • Inadequate information about one's diagnosis and prognosis.

  • Inadequate medical care. Patients commonly see several doctors before finding a specialist who can actually help, and in the meantime, may be spinning their wheels with unhelpful treatment and inadequate support while their condition is worsening.

  • Inadequate palliative care. Eye doctors as a whole are poorly equipped to educate patients about the non-medical or "lifestyle" steps they can take to address symptoms. For the first ten years I ran my DryEyeShop business, the most common phrase I heard from people on the phone after a conversation about simple remedies like moisture chambers was, "Why didn't my doctor tell me?"

  • Anger and/or guilt associated with elective surgeries. Anyone who has gotten dry eye from LASIK or elective blepharoplasty knows exactly what I am talking about. The psychological impact of an elective surgery gone awry is extraordinary and profound, even if uncomplicated by other factors — yet these patients always have other complicating factors, among which tensions with the surgeon may figure prominently, including as relates to failures of pre-surgical screening as well as post-operative treatment.

  • Sensation of isolation. While many people find understanding peers online, most people have no one near at hand who understands their experience.

  • Eyes being the organ affected. The innate fear of vision loss is well known and well documented. Any eye disease perceived as chronic can trigger this, consciously or otherwise — and more likely the latter. 

  • Belief that one isn't coping well. I deliberately left this for last, in order for readers to see the irony of it in context. It's very, very common amongst those in their first six months to a year particularly when they have had no validation of the magnitude of what they're dealing with, so they have no context for it. All they have is how it's being reflected back to them by doctors, peers, and family, and if the wrong things are reflected back, the impact can further cripple their ability to advocate for themselves. It's also dangerous, for those who may be approaching suicidal, because they become unable to talk about the psychological impact of their experience, since they have every reason to expect it will be interpreted as a massively inappropriate, inexplicable response to their situation.

Depression is par for the course. (See why now?)


Monday, July 17, 2017

Does it ever get better?

My answer to this question is always a resounding yes... as long as you are willing to put some careful thought into what "better" actually means.

Getting better is not a binary concept.


There's often a tendency to think about dry eye in what I would call binary terms. Black and white. Two choices. Curable/incurable. Permanent/temporary. Chronic/treatable.

This kind of thinking is, I believe, fundamentally harmful to patients who are struggling. When you're in pain or have other persistent, perhaps disabling symptoms affecting daily activities and quality of life, you have to be able to think in terms of incremental improvements rather than wholesale leaps that can't be visualized or readily achieved. Otherwise, you forfeit hope.

Here's an example of a classic communication dynamic that always causes me particular concern:

Doctor calls it "chronic".

Patient hears "incurable".

Doctor is talking about (for example) an inflammatory condition of the patient's meibomian glands that s/he expects to need daily attention on a long-term basis.

Patient is thinking about waking up every few hours to put in more ointment, getting up in the morning with sore eyes and perhaps lids stuck shut, going through the day in constant discomfort, and seeing activities getting more and more curtailed.

Patient looks at that composite. Hears "chronic". Begins extrapolating that composite of today's reality out into the future. Then, perhaps, hears an even worse word: "Progressive". Begins picturing every succeeding decade of life getting worse. And thinks: "I can't do this."

Then the emotional snowball effect.

Patient becomes stressed, anxious, depressed. Ironically, doctor may advise them not to use antidepressants because their eyes may get drier.
Patient feels trapped with too few choices.
Patient becomes less compliant, more compulsive, trying too many things at once and nothing for long enough.
Patient becomes less able to advocate for self and more vulnerable to the minefield of communication pitfalls with their doctor.

This is an example of how the classic disconnect plays out: where doctors think in terms of clinical signs, and patients think in terms of symptoms and life impact. This disconnect can have a particularly potent impact on the patient's mental wellbeing when discussing prognosis and progression. Why?

First of all, because eye doctors often really do not understand the degree, nature and extent of the life impact of the symptoms their patient is experiencing. Secondly, because patients who are struggling with major symptoms are necessarily struggling just as much mentally as physically, and therefore need hope to keep them going. Hope is vital.

Thus:

We should think both more broadly, and more specifically, about what "better" means.


"Better" can mean a whole lot of things.

We can talk about "better" in terms of clinical milestones: improvements to your staining, your tear film osmolarity, the state of your meibomian glands, and so on.

We can talk about "better" in terms of your symptoms, in numbers terms, like scoring yourself on OSDI regularly, or keeping a log.

We can talk about "better" in terms of activities. How long can I comfortably use a computer or read a book at a stretch? Can I do any of my favorite outdoor activities and if so, for how long? Can I travel? Can I drive at night? Can I tolerate an office environment?

We can talk about "better" in terms of mental/emotional health. Am I in the midst of crisis, needing extra support and maybe treatment? Am I seeing myself come out the other side?

And we can talk about "better" in global terms. Is dry eye running my life, or has it been relegated to its 'proper' place - whatever that means?

Which then allows us to set specific goals — and go about achieving them.


For the dry eye patient who's been struggling for awhile, it is hugely in their interest to start articulating specific goals and sharing them with their doctor. A specific goal is an achievable goal! I might not be able to 'cure' my dry eye. But can I find a way to get more computer time, if that's really important to me? Very, very likely — because once I've specified the goal, I can then think more broadly when it comes to possible ways to achieve it. It's not just about dry eye treatments; it's about management and creative solutions.

Everyone will have different life priorities and goals, and different tradeoffs we're willing to accept, different compromises to navigate.

What are your priorities? What are the tradeoffs you're willing to accept? What are the compromises you can make in order to achieve what REALLY matters to you?

  • For one person it's going to be all about an active lifestyle.
  • For another, who prefers to avoid medications it's going to be all about drugs: Is there a way I can get to a point where I'm using no Rx drops, or no pain meds?
  • For another it's going to be the dependencies: Can I get to a point where I don't have to do X routine absolutely every day in order to be OK?
  • For another, it's going to be aesthetics. Maybe you'll do absolutely anything except wear dry eye glasses.
  • For another, it's all about pain levels - period. You'll do anything if you can only keep it below a 4 most of the day.

Next up is what's already been touched on today - dry eye and mental health.