The Cost of Dry Eye Treatment

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board

Managing chronic dry eye goes far beyond just handling the symptoms of the disease. The average cost of managing dry eye disease is more than $11,000 per person, or more than $55 billion to the U.S. economy as a whole. This number skyrockets further when considering the fact that nearly half of the people with dry eyes do not even seek treatment.1

When looking at the financial costs related to dry eye, those expenses can be broken down into:

  • Direct costs of care, which includes things like prescriptions, copays, and insurance payments
  • Indirect costs of care, which includes things like unpaid time off or unemployment

Both direct and indirect costs can burden the person with the disease and the economy as a whole.

Direct treatment costs

Direct costs related to chronic dry eye include those things that can easily be tied to the disease. These include eye care products, drug costs, doctor visits, procedures, and supplements used in treating the disease.

Buying eye care products

If you have dry eye disease, you are most likely familiar with over-the-counter (OTC) lubricating drops. Known as artificial tears, there are likely dozens available at your local pharmacy. These are not cheap and often require you to buy many bottles during the year. The costs of this dry eye treatment add up.1

Other eye care products you may be buying include ointments, lid scrubs, and humidifiers.1

Drug costs

If your doctor prescribes eye drops for treating your chronic dry eye symptoms, your medical insurance may not cover the entire cost of the drug. This cost comes directly out of your wallet.

Doctor visits or procedures

Depending on the coverage and type of vision insurance you have, you may have to cover part or all of your eye doctor visits. These costs can add up when you have a chronic condition like dry eye.1

In-office procedures that your doctor performs may not be covered by your insurance, leaving you to pay the bill.1

Nutritional supplements or other supplies

When it comes to supplements, you may be tempted to buy the “quick fix” advertised to cure chronic dry eye. Unfortunately, there is no cure for chronic dry eye. The supplements used to treat dry eye should be recommended by your doctor, as some may be harmful.

Omega-3 fatty acids, found in dietary supplements and foods such as fish and flaxseed, may be recommended by your doctor. These have anti-inflammatory properties that may help with dry eye symptoms. These supplements are not cheap and are available OTC. This means your medical insurance is unlikely to cover the cost of buying these.2

Indirect costs

The indirect costs related to chronic dry eye cannot be understated. Because nearly half of those with dry eye disease do not seek treatment, the total indirect costs cannot be determined. However, doctors have studied indirect costs from those with dry eyes and how this impacts their job. Some findings reported include:2

  • Job productivity losses from not going to work or not being able to fully perform your job.
  • The number of workdays lost was more than 8 days per year for those with mild dry eye disease. For those with severe dry eye, it was more than 14 days per year.

Do I qualify for disability payments?

If your dry eye symptoms are making it hard for you to maintain or find a job, you may consider applying for Social Security disability benefits. Dry eye and the conditions that cause it are not well known. Because of this, you may find it hard to get disability payments approved. If you want more information, you can find details on the Social Security Administration website, talk to your doctor, or find a lawyer who specializes in disability.3

Is there anything I can do?

It may seem like the costs of dry eye treatment are out of your control. Luckily, there are some things you can do to help, including:

  • Look for sales on the OTC products you use.
  • Check both your medical and vision insurance policies for ways to save. You may have a benefit that you are not using that could help offset the costs of treatment.
  • Talk to your doctor. If you take prescription eye drops and the costs are too high, tell your doctor. There may be a cheaper alternative.

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