A woman in distress is surrounded by bright flashing lights.

Chronic Dry Eye Patient Spotlight: Anna

I have always experienced light sensitivity. If the sun was too bright, I’d get a headache. I never understood why people liked bright, sunny days; I dreaded them. If I was in a classroom with harsh fluorescent lights, I would have to avert my eyes.

Thinking it was just the norm

I thought experiencing light sensitivity was the norm and people just didn’t talk about it. I began to realize this might not be the norm when I went to a concert and I fainted because of all the flashing lights. Along with light sensitivity, I also experience eye pain and sometimes have redness. The pain feels like a mix of pressure and soreness. It can get really uncomfortable sometimes, but for the most part, I’ve learned to ignore it.

Like the light sensitivity, I thought these were normal things that everyone didn’t really talk about. Because I thought these were things that the average person experienced, I did not realize they were symptoms of chronic dry eye and didn’t tell any medical professional about it.

I have been seeing my optometrist every year or two since I was a child. During my teens, my optometrist told me my eyes looked dry. She recommended that I use over-the-counter eye drops to lubricate them. I used them for a little while, but not as frequently as I should have been. I did not realize how serious having dry eyes was. Like many others, I took my eye health for granted.

Getting an answer

I began taking my health more seriously when I was diagnosed with an autoimmune inflammatory disease. This disease is systemic so it causes inflammation throughout my body, including my eyes. I told my optometrist about my condition, as I knew it had some sort of effect on my eyes, and she said that my past eye examination results make more sense now.

After some testing, I was told that my tear ducts weren’t producing enough on their own due to inflammation. It has been about 5 or 6 years since my optometrist first told me about dryness in my eyes, and it is a relief to finally know what is causing it.

The most difficult part of chronic dry eye

For me, the most difficult part of living with chronic dry eye is the light sensitivity and eye pain. Even with my prescription transition glasses, being outside during the day is difficult because it is tough to escape the bright rays of the sun. It can also be hard to watch TV or use my laptop or phone; even with adjusted lighting and a blue-light filter on my devices and on my glasses, sometimes things can still be too bright.

If I am exposed to bright lights or really vibrant colors for too long, my eye pain also worsens. I have chronic pain, and for many years I could not distinguish that my eyes were also in pain, as other areas of my body were in more pain. Once I realized it, it explained the constant discomfort I felt in my eyes, which I had always attributed to eye strain or my astigmatism.

Sometimes my light sensitivity and eye pain can also cause headaches, so I find myself feeling quite anxious when either of these symptoms is triggered in the slightest.

What I've done to treat my symptoms

My optometrist has recommended that I use lubricating eye drops 3 times a day, use a warm eye compress once daily, and take omega 3 supplements. She has also prescribed anti-inflammatory and corticosteroid eye drops.

Along with my doctor’s recommended course of treatment, I am also receiving treatment for my inflammatory disease, which will also reduce inflammation and dryness in my eyes. I also use transition glasses and blackout curtains and blinds to help with my light sensitivity.

Talking to others

Before I knew that what I was experiencing is chronic dry eye, it was harder to talk to people about the condition. I would discuss symptoms with people, like my light sensitivity, and would not be taken seriously or would be ignored.

Because I also have other chronic conditions, sometimes people act like I am annoying or being too negative by talking about what I am experiencing. However, there are some people in my life who do understand or try to understand, and I’m very grateful for them.

What I wish others knew

I wish people knew how uncomfortable it is. In my experience, the discomfort is like having an eyelash in your eye that you just can’t get out. It can be very distracting and frustrating to deal with.

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