A woman with two novels, one in each hand, distressed and trying to read.

Trying to Read With Chronic Dry Eye

My list of books to read is starting to get out of hand. This is especially true with the samples I’ve put on my Kindle - it's just too easy to send a sample to my device every time I'm interested in a book. I download one book after another and then I leave them behind to get dusty on my digital bookshelf because my eyes aren’t up to the challenge.

I have always loved to read, but my reading wishes and reality aren’t on the same page anymore.

I’m becoming more frustrated that my chronic dry eye is getting in between me and my book lists. It’s no longer just sadness that I can’t enjoy reading something indulgent or an inconvenience that I can’t use a resource like a parenting book, it’s now becoming problematic. Recently, my husband and I have decided to work through a marriage book and workbook together with our marriage counselor. There’s just one problem; I can’t read it.

My stubborn dry eyes

This year my husband and I will celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. He gave me a Kindle as a wedding gift and I spent much of our honeymoon immersed in novels. My love of reading has always been part of our relationship in some way.

Four years later, I was reading on that very Kindle as my husband drove us home from a vacation when the words became blurry. I was very confused and alarmed about no longer being able to read the words without increasing the font size significantly.

At first, I thought I was having some sort of neurological issue. Rather, it turned out to be the first time my chronic dry eye manifested in a noticeable way. Reading became so much harder. I sought out medical care for my dry eye, but I also gradually started switching to watching TV during my downtime, as it was easier on my eyes, even though I would have much preferred to read.

The work of reading

Last year, my husband gifted me a new Kindle and I've barely used it because my dry eye has gotten much worse. I grieve the loss of my pleasure reading, but I struggle even more with the way my inability to read has impacted the work I'm supposed to be doing for my marriage.

My husband and I have attempted to create a weekly book club, just the 2 of us, to work on our marriage. Relationships are hard, especially after becoming parents, and we want to understand the how and why behind our problems so that we can work through them and thrive again. But it means I need to somehow absorb the reading material every week before we have our mini book club.

Each week, I find myself getting irritated when it’s time for me to read the chapter. I know it’s going to be a miserable, dry, blinking, squinting, and sometimes guessing at words experience. I hate that I can't simply sit down to complete the task. It's already hard to work through relational problems - to acknowledge where I'm wrong within my partnership and commit to change - and it makes it harder when I'm struggling so much to read the material that will help me understand what's going on.

Chronic dry eye can cause a lot of harm in our lives. It negatively affects our finances, it impacts our mental health, it can make it harder for us to work, and it can even damage our vision. It feels so unfair to when we're already climbing a mountain and dry eye just puts one more stumbling block in our way.

What are the alternatives?

I imagine there are few readers thinking, “Why don’t you just listen to the audiobook?” That’s a valid question. I’ve tried a few audiobooks, including the marriage book, and it doesn’t work well for me. It is better than nothing, but it's not a full experience. I'm grateful that the option to listen is there, but it makes me feel like I'm only getting part of the story.

I learn very well by reading. When I listen to books or podcasts, etc., the words just seem to float right by me without sinking in. I find myself rewinding and replaying and somehow never quite getting the complete lesson from the material. It doesn't stick well. For some reason, I just don’t understand or process spoken words in the same way. Everyone has their own specific way of learning and it feels unfair that chronic dry eye has impacted my options for learning visually.

I’ve gotten creative when it comes to reading my chapter each week. I’ve tried soaking my eyes with drops, changing the lighting, breaking the reading up into very small chunks, and one time I steamed up my bathroom and read in the bathtub. Reading in a steamy bathtub was actually the easiest on my eyes, it’s just not the most feasible solution for every time I need to read.

What tips do you have?

Has your reading ability been affected by chronic dry eye? Have you learned to love audiobooks? I would like to hear from others who have dealt with this problem. It’s hard to accept that reading is no longer simple, accessible, and easy for me. Please share any tips you have for reading with dry eyes.

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