A woman with a worried expression is surrounded by drops of water and bottles of eye drops.

Chronic Dry Eye Patient Spotlight: Anna Williams

My first step to getting diagnosed was at an eye exam (this was probably 2-3 years ago). I told my eye doctor how my eyes felt. He examined them and said it appeared I have a little bit of dry eye and a little bit of allergy eye.

Getting confused

I asked what eye drops I should use, because I've used several OTC eye drops and none were helping. He said it didn't matter. My logical side told me there are dry eye drops and allergy eye drops, so now I was even more confused.

I hadn't tried the really expensive OTC ones, but had tried the lower-cost and mid-cost with no success. I used to be on an allergy eye drop that seemed to help, so I talked to my GP about it and she prescribed them to me. My eyes felt better. I hadn't considered my lack of tears and worsening night vision could be related. As long as my eyes didn't burn and didn't feel irritated, I thought it was the right thing to do.

Like a needle poking me in the eye

So to make things more complex, I have chronic cluster headaches. I had developed a new array of symptoms that felt like a needle poking me in the eye over and over. I now know those symptoms have a different diagnosis called SUNCT. SUNCT attacks are unilateral, and my eye waters and gets red. My eyelid gets puffy and my eye droops. It's very visible.

My thinking was if during these attacks my eye water, then my eyes still "work." So after my first SUNCT attack, my message got lost in translation at my neurologist, and they said if I have eye pain I should see an eye doctor. I waited until I had another attack and went into the eye doctor so I could skip that part of the conversation. I expected this doctor to see nothing wrong.

A severe case

However, she said I had severe dry eye. I was given prescription eye drops and told to use warm compresses and to scrub my eye lashes. I asked if I needed to purchase products; she said no, just use a warm washcloth. So I did.

However, while she saw a bit of improvement, it wasn't much. I did buy the more expensive eye drops OTC, as she'd given me a sample and they have felt better than any eye drops I've had (Refresh Flaxseed Oil). She then prescribed Xiidra. After another follow-up, I was given a course of steroid eye drops. I'm waiting to see the results, as of my writing this.

Bringing it up to others

Since I advocate in the migraine field, I have been bringing up dry eye a lot and have found many others experience this as well. My bringing it up has, I hope, helped others see the connections and hopefully seek information from their doctors.

More than telling others, though, I have had to really push myself to accept this is a big deal! I've been losing my ability to drive at night, and I wasn't sure why my vision was getting so bad at night in particular. However, this diagnosis has helped it make more sense. Sadly, I was the one that needed to hear the message that this is a serious condition.

What I wish others knew

I wish other people knew dry eye is a serious condition. I was shocked that treatments I was using for other conditions possibly contributed to dryness. Also, some OTC products were not helpful for the condition and may have contributed.

I wish doctors, more than anything, understood this condition and took it more seriously. I talked to both an eye doctor and my GP. Neither took it seriously, so I continued self treating. Sadly things progressed unknowingly to me, and now I have a serious condition on my hands.

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