Chronic dry eye is a treatable condition, and some people successfully manage their symptoms with over-the-counter (OTC) remedies. But sometimes, these treatments don’t work or stop working.
Chronic dry eye that isn’t properly treated puts you at a higher risk of developing complications like eye infections, light sensitivity, and eye inflammation. Dry eyes can also reduce your quality of life, making it difficult to do things like drive or work.
You don’t have to tackle this problem alone. Managing chronic dry eye on your own through OTC remedies is an option, but it’s not the only option.
Take a look at these seven signs that you need more than an OTC treatment to manage your dry eyes.
1. You have severe, chronic eye pain
Chronic dry eye can be a progressive condition that causes severe symptoms.
While some people ease their symptoms with OTC lubricating drops, severe dry eyes may not respond to these remedies. And if not, you may develop severe eye pain along with dryness.
This can feel like a stinging or burning sensation, and some people describe it as a sharp pain in their eyes. Severe dry eyes can also damage the surface of your cornea. This part of your eye has a greater density of nerve endings, making it sensitive to irritation. Pain can also occur if dry eyes cause a corneal abrasion.
2. You can’t tolerate bright lights
Working at a computer often contributes to chronic dry eye. This is because people who work at computers tend to blink less often. Taking breaks and applying lubricating eye drops can reduce dryness.
If your chronic dry eye becomes severe and eye drops stop working, you may develop extreme light sensitivity or photophobia, which is eye pain when exposed to light. This can also lead to chronic headaches.
Different types of light can trigger redness and pain. This includes fluorescent lights, television, sunlight, and your computer or other electronic device.
3. You’re unable to remove your contact lenses
If your eyes become too dry while wearing your contact lenses, it may be difficult to remove them from your eyes. Contact lenses need moisture to be comfortable. Sometimes, OTC lubricating eyedrops aren’t enough to keep your eyes lubricated and your contacts moist.
You may need a contact lens designed specifically for dry eyes, and you’ll probably have to use re-wetting drops during the day.
Also, if you struggle to remove your lenses, your nails could accidentally scratch your cornea.
4. You have blurry vision or double vision
Temporary blurriness is another sign of chronic dry eye. Blinking a few times or applying eye drops will usually get rid of blurriness. But if your blurry vision doesn’t improve with an OTC product, you’ll likely need eye drops prescribed by your eye doctor, ophthalmologist, or optometrist.
You should also see a doctor if you have double vision. Blurriness and double vision occur when the tear film on the surface of your eyes becomes uneven as a result of chronic dry eye.
5. You’re using eyedrops constantly
OTC remedies are effective for some people with chronic dry eye, and they may only need to apply drops one or two times a day for relief.
But if you find that you’re using eye drops constantly throughout the day without much improvement to your symptoms, you likely need a stronger eye drop.
Different types of eye drops can provide relief, and your doctor can prescribe one based on the underlying cause of dryness. Options include antibiotic eyedrops, eyedrops that reduce inflammation, or tear-stimulating eye drops.
6. You feel depressed or anxious
Chronic dry eye can also affect you emotionally. If you’re able to manage symptoms with an OTC product, your symptoms may have a limited effect on your life.
If OTC remedies don’t work and your symptoms impact your quality of life, you may experience anxiety or depression. Treatments are available for anxiety and depression, but you may have a better outcome treating the root cause.
Talk to your doctor about the emotional effect of chronic dry eye. The right treatment can help improve your eye health and your emotional health.
7. You can’t cry or produce tears
Dry eyes also need more than an OTC remedy when you feel the urge to cry, but can’t produce tears.
An effective OTC product should increase moisture and help improve the quality of your tears. If not, you need a prescription eye drop to stimulate your tear glands and keep your eyes moist.
Lack of moisture doesn’t only make it difficult to cry. It also means that your eyes can’t wash away debris that can damage the surface of your cornea.
Dry eyes may seem like a minor annoyance or problem. But chronic dryness can progress and lead to complications like infections or damage to the surface of your eyes.
You can self-treat with OTC medications, but you should see a doctor, ophthalmologist, or optometrist if your symptoms don’t improve. Your doctor can determine the cause behind your symptoms, and recommend a treatment to improve the quality of your tears or prevent tear evaporation.