What I Would Tell Teenage Me About Dry Eyes
When I was a teenager, I was also a dancer. This was my main reason to wear contact lenses, because I didn’t mind my glasses that much. But anybody who’s been into sports knows how glasses can be a hassle, and a figure skating or dancer doing spins knows how they tend to fly quite easily off your face! So, I went with the contacts.
If I remember correctly, I had my first contact lenses at 11. I first tried semi-rigid ones, which I did not tolerate at all, so I settled on regular soft lenses.
Being told the discomfort was normal
I wasn’t going easy on my eyes. I’d put my contacts on first thing in the morning, and sometimes forget to remove them at night just noticing once in bed, realizing it wasn’t normal to see that well! And yet, it’s not because they were so comfortable to me.
I had to learn quite quickly not to rub my eyes even if I had an eyelash stuck under the lens, or if my eyes were so dry that my contact felt like sandpaper, or ended up folded upon itself in a triangle in the corner of my eye. I learned to live with the discomfort and the pain – told by my mom, by my eye doctor, and by pretty much everyone I talked to about this, that it was normal. That contacts were just not comfortable.
It wasn't true
Not to rub my eyes was a very important tip!
But the rest? It wasn’t true. My problems were not the lenses; it was that my eyes were dry. Even more so because I have nocturnal lagophthalmos, which means my upper eyelids don’t fully close when I sleep (yuck, I know! How creepy!)
Sadly, I wasn’t told I had dry eyes until my late teens, and wasn’t told about the lagophthalmos until my twenties! And when I was told about it, it was mostly to shrug it off: ah, sure, your contacts quickly feel uncomfortable, it’s because you have dry eyes.
Advocating for myself
But until I asked, I wasn’t told there could be a solution except endure the discomfort or pain. In fact, I wasn’t even explained that the pain could be caused by dry eyes, or that some vision problems (like sometimes not seeing well) could be caused by it! Even when I asked, in fact, it was shrugged off again; only told to use drops when my eyes felt too dry. That was it.
It took years and other health issues, looking online about dry eyes, and me learning how to be a better self-advocate that I learned how chronic dry eyes could have such an impact, and learning of so many different options that could help with it!
What I wish I knew
I’m glad I knew not to rub my eyes, because it’s so important.
But I wish I had known my chronic dry eye was the reason it was so difficult to be comfortable in my contact lenses. That I should probably have worn them a shorter amount of time every day (or take a break when possible).
I wish I had known that I wasn’t fussy or difficult, and that it was chronic dry eye that was the issue. That “just any drop” might not be sufficient and that trial and error, or sometimes a mix of different products, at different times, might be best for me.
That there are tests to be done to learn what type of dryness you have, which might help decide how to treat it. That there are options like medications, special drops, and tear duct plugs that can be tried as well.
It's okay to ask questions
Most of all, I wish I had known how to be my own advocate, and not just accept being shrugged off and living years of discomfort and pain. It’s OK to insist (respectfully!) and ask questions, and to go see a different eye doctor if you don’t feel the one you’re seeing is taking you seriously.
Your eyes are precious, you have the right to want to take care of them as best you can, and you have the right to want to live discomfort and pain-free.
Have you taken the 2023 Chronic Dry Eye In America survey?