A large puzzle with pieces strewn about depict a woman suffering from dry eye symptoms.

You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

When I first started getting that gritty, sandpaper feeling and redness in my eyes, it never occurred to me that it could be a lack of lubrication due to dry eye. Chronic dry eye was something I had never heard of. I knew of some people that used eye drops routinely during the day, but they all wore contacts, something I had never done.

Constant pain

What I knew at the time was that my eyes were starting to hurt constantly. I associated all of the discomfort and redness in my eyes with the eyelashes that were constantly falling out. Having so many of them scratching across my eye and then sticking my fingers in there trying to fish them out multiple times per day would certainly cause redness and pain, right? Was it an infection or some kind of inflammatory rash causing the eyelashes to fall out at such a rapid rate?

Not knowing if this was something to bring up to my primary care, my optometrist, or if I needed to find an ophthalmologist, I started searching the internet to get pointed in the right direction.

Based on the symptoms I was searching for, the closest matches were blepharitis and ocular rosacea. I don’t recall ever seeing the phrase “dry eye” when I was searching online. It may just not have been on my radar, but it also seemed there were significantly fewer and conflicting resources online in the early 2010’s regarding these issues.

Bringing up my problems

At my next annual optometrist appointment, I had brought up the problems I was experiencing. He looked over my eyes and then determined that everything looked fine and that my eyes were just irritated from working on a computer all day. He gave me the name of some over-the-counter eye drops and that was that. He was indignant and rude when I pushed back, but that’s a story for another time.

I did try the eye drops, but they really weren’t helpful. I brought up my eye issues with my primary care physician at my next appointment and with the next one after her. They mostly shrugged their shoulders at me, unsure what it was or who to see about it.

By this point, I figured that this was just my life now. It felt like I had no way of figuring out what was actually wrong, let alone how to find someone who could help me, but I was starting to get an inkling that perhaps lack of tears may be playing a part.

Putting the puzzle pieces together

It had been about five years since my symptoms had first started, and my eyes had been getting progressively worse. After finding out that the optometrist I had seen was retiring and closing his practice, I started looking at my other in-network optometrist options. I came across a website for one that was advertising on the front page that they treated dry eye.

Curious, I clicked on the link, and there were descriptions of most of what I was experiencing. That’s when things really clicked, and it felt like the puzzle pieces were finally coming together. I made an appointment, and the rest is history.

Others suffering untreated

I don’t know how many more years I may have suffered with untreated chronic dry eye if my other optometrist hadn’t retired. I wonder how many people don’t know to see their eye doctor about it or, like me, get brushed off by them.

How many people suffer thinking they’ve just been staring at screens too much or, specifically in the arid regions of the world, think it’s just the dry air? When, for some, constant watering is a symptom of dry eye, who would guess dryness is the cause?

I would love to hear how others figured out their eye problems were caused by chronic dry eye.

Did you immediately associate your symptoms with dryness, or did you have a more indirect road to discovery like mine?

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