Walking Through the Dry Eye Desert Alone

“Ugh, the humidity,” most Americans say at least once during the summer. But imagine living somewhere where it’s—literally—never humid. That’s the reality if you live in the Southwest. It’s dry here all the time. The 300 days of sunshine do wonders for the spirit, but if you walk around with dry eye disease like I do, the desert comes to your eyes with painful, gritty irritation on a daily basis.

Environment's impact on dry eye

I already had dry eye disease before I moved here but I had no idea how much worse it would get with the total lack of moisture in the air. After a couple of months it progressed from a background nuisance to actual pain just opening my eyes in the morning. What was this stabbing sensation in my eye, an eyelash? I’d stare in the mirror looking for a cause but I’d never find one.

Insight from an ophthalmologist?

Finally, I decided it was time to have it looked at by an ophthalmologist. What if it was something serious, like a corneal abrasion? I’d had those a couple times before when I still wore contacts.

I’ll never forget the day I went in to see one of the few ophthalmologists in our small town. Perhaps I just assumed because of the dry climate all eye specialists out here would be experts and take dry eye disease seriously. Alas, no. When this doctor came in, he took a brief look in my eyes and said “yeah your eyes are dry” with a disinterested shrug. All he was willing to do was prescribe something he called an “Advil for the eyes.” So a band aid. That’s all I got.

Searching for the right dry eye solution

A few months went by and the problem became solely my own. I bought a humidifier to run day and night but barely noticed any difference. The air still felt dry all the time and my eyes felt like a parched desert landscape. I started wearing a sleep mask over my eyes and tried nighttime ointments, but I still had stabs of pain just opening my eyes some mornings.

Finally I decided to do some Googling to find another eye doctor who might take more than a glance at my eyes and offer real solutions. I found an optometrist noted for being kind and empathetic with patients—maybe this guy?

I knew it was going better this time when this eye doctor applied a special stain in my eyes and looked at them carefully, then explained the damage to my corneas from dry eye disease. Finally someone took me seriously and wanted to help. A few days later I started Xiidra and it made a world of difference in a matter of weeks.

When I think about that first ophthalmologist I saw, I often wonder why I was left to deal with this problem alone. Why didn’t I deserve more than a glance and a real treatment plan? So many of us face this uncaring indifference on our journey to managing dry eye disease.

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