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Doctor Discussion Guide

Medically reviewed by Judith Marcin, MD on August 24, 2016Written by Sonia Pearson on August 24, 2016
Doctors for dry eye

Are you wondering if it’s time to see a doctor about your dry eyes? If you’ve been living with dry eyes, you don’t have to anymore. There are things you can do to ease your symptoms. However, before you begin treating yourself with eye drops, you should see a doctor.

Your doctor will offer answers to your questions about dry eyes. For example, they can tell you whether or not your condition is chronic. They can also uncover if there is an underlying cause. Bringing a list of questions to your appointment can help ensure you get the best answers for your health.

What does it mean to have chronic dry eyes?

For starters, you may be wondering if your dry eyes are temporary or chronic. If your dry eyes have been an ongoing problem, you might be dealing with a chronic condition.

Temporary dry eyes are usually resolved quickly. If you wear contacts for too many hours, simply taking them out at night may resolve your dry eyes. Perhaps you have spent most of the day starting at a computer screen. If your dry eyes resolved after taking more breaks, then your condition was temporary.

Chronic dry eyes occur repeatedly, day in and day out. There is an underlying cause that persists. This is characteristic of most chronic conditions. If your dry eyes aren’t relieved by simple changes like those above, you may have chronic dry eyes.

Ask your doctor:

  • What are chronic dry eyes?
  • Do I have temporary or chronic dry eyes?
  • How can you tell?

What symptoms should I watch for?

It’s helpful to know what symptoms to look for when diagnosing chronic dry eye. If you have chronic dry eyes, you may experience:

  • a burning feeling
  • tired eyes or heavy eyelids
  • moments of cloudy vision
  • a sensation that there’s a foreign object in your eye
  • periods of time with too many tears followed by no tears at all
  • red and painful eyes
  • being unable to cry when you want to
  • discomfort with contact lenses
  • trouble with reading, computer work, or other high-focus tasks
  • discharge from the eye that is stringy

Having only one symptom probably doesn’t add up to chronic dry eyes. However, having several symptoms at the same time may be a real indication.

Ask your doctor:

  • Do my symptoms add up to chronic dry eye?
  • What should I do if I start to see more than one of these symptoms at a time?

What causes chronic dry eyes?

It’s important to know the cause of your dry eyes. You could have an underlying condition that, when treated, may permanently resolve the problem.

Chronic dry eye can be caused by a variety of issues, including:

  • a side effect of medication like blood pressure medicine, antihistamines, birth control pills, and others
  • a side effect of taking estrogen hormone therapy
  • pregnancy
  • autoimmune diseases like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, or Sjögren’s syndrome
  • ailments of the glands around the eye
  • allergies
  • eye trauma or injury
  • a side effect of not being able to close your eye completely

When it comes to finding true resolution for chronic dry eye, you need to know the underlying cause.

Ask your doctor:

  • Do I have any illnesses or conditions that could lead to dry eye?
  • Is there a way to resolve these issues so that dry eye symptoms are reduced?

How is chronic dry eye diagnosed?

Your primary care doctor may send you to an eye doctor, either an ophthalmologist or an optometrist, to get a full diagnosis. Your eye doctor will give you a full eye exam to properly diagnose the problem. They should also perform tear quality testing to fully determine the presence of chronic dry eye.

Your eye doctor will ask for your full medical history, not just the medical history of your eyes. This will help eliminate causes of dry eyes related to environmental or disease-related causes. They may want to know how long you have had dry eyes. Also tell them what you have done at home to gain relief.

Your eye doctor will then examine your eyes, eyelids, corneas, and how you blink. They will evaluate your tears by measuring how many tears you produce. They will also examine the content of your tears to determine the quality of oil, mucus, and water levels.

If any of these factors are abnormal, you may have chronic dry eye.

Ask your doctor:

  • Do you need samples of my tears for a diagnosis?
  • Do you need to know my family medical history?
  • Do you want to know what I have done to relieve pain from dry eyes?

What are my treatment options?

Final questions for your doctor should be about your treatment options. Of course, the recommended treatment will depend on the cause. Depending on the source of your dry eyes, you will need anything from basic eye drops to minor eye surgery.

The range of treatment options can include:

  • a prescription for the anti-inflammatory drug cyclosporine, either orally or through eye drops
  • other anti-inflammatory eye drops
  • switching medications to one that doesn’t cause dry eyes
  • changing your contact lens type or how long you wear them (or permanently removing them)
  • plugging or blocking tear ducts so tears can’t drain
  • increasing intake of omega-3 fatty acids
  • over-the-counter artificial tears
  • inserting gels or ointments onto the eye to increase tear production
  • wearing glasses or sunglasses with side shields to keep tears from evaporating
  • adding a cool mist humidifier to your home to keep tears from evaporating
  • increasing your water intake

Your doctor may offer additional treatments beyond this list.

Ask your doctor:

  • What treatment is best for my cause of chronic dry eyes?
  • What procedure or medication do you recommend?

Going to the doctor

You can get the most out of your doctor’s visit by taking these steps:

  • Come prepared with a comprehensive list of questions.
  • Be proactive in treating the issue.
  • Tell your doctor about all of your symptoms and anything you’ve noticed about your condition.

Providing your doctor with details and asking good questions can help you get the best treatment possible.

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