A woman looks with a worried expression at warning symbols hidden behind clouds.

What I Wish I Had Known

I try not to live with regret about things I wish I had done differently to prevent my chronic dry eye, but I do have some things I wish I had known. And I pass those lessons on to my kids, my husband, my friends, and just about anyone else who will listen. In fact, they probably get tired of hearing my rants. The words of my fourteen-year-old daughter ring humorously in my ears: “I know, I know, Mom...”

But I know just how devastating this condition can be. And for those of us suffering, we don’t want anyone we love to have to experience it. So here are some things I wish I had known that I also share with others.

Take notice of warning signs

As a long-time contact lens wearer, I noticed some mild dry eye symptoms years ago. I would mention how I was feeling at my yearly eye appointments, and my doctor would usually switch me to a better pair of contacts or advise me on what type of solution or eye drops to use. He never warned me of the possibility of chronic, life-altering dry eye.

Had I known, I might have decreased my contact lens wear and tried other preventative measures. My daughter wears contact lenses, so I make sure she knows to never sleep in her contacts, to periodically give her eyes a break from them, and to be aware of any dry eye warning signs.

Use warm compresses

Warm compresses help my eyes feel better, as they keep the oils from our meibomian glands flowing. This oily layer of our tears helps prevent our watery layer from evaporating. My husband recently learned that he has some mild evaporative dry eye symptoms. His doctor advised him to use warm compresses, and I belabor this point and make sure he follows his doctor’s advice.

Pay attention to lid hygiene

I did not realize that lid hygiene was so important in preventing chronic dry eye. Removing makeup and debris from our eyelids and lashes can help our meibomian glands continue to function properly. I now liken it to the care we give to our teeth each day when we brush and floss. Think about how much more precious our eyes are than are our teeth!

Blink often when using technology

For years, I worked on a computer all day as a graphic designer. And I still use the computer regularly now in my current career as a teacher. My kids are on technology even more than I was at their age with the accessibility of smartphones, video games, and other devices. When I developed chronic dry eye, I learned about the 20-20-20 rule, and I share it with my kids, students, and friends: Every 20 minutes, look 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds, and be sure to blink.

We blink less often when using screens. Blinking releases oil from the meibomian glands. If we don’t blink, that oil can become stagnant and harden and lead to evaporative dry eye. So I make sure my kids know the importance of blinking and taking time away from screens.

Know products that can be drying or irritating

I did not realize that many of the products I used to use, like face wash, makeup, lotion, and shampoo, could be contributing to my dry eye condition. Since then, I have switched over to clean products. I even switched out all of my household products to plant-based products. I no longer spray anything that could be potentially harmful to my eyes. I also stopped taking allergy medications, which can be drying.

I am helping my daughter make clean product choices as well, and educating her on the potential harmful effects of the products I was using.

Diet can matter

Diet can be a contributing factor to systemic inflammation, and dry eye is an inflammatory condition. I am educating my family that what they put into their bodies matters.

These are the things I wish I had known. Hindsight truly is 20/20.

What do you wish you had known before your chronic dry eye developed?

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