By Dr. Paul Neumann

When I started practicing optometry in 1992, dry eyes were little more than a nuisance. But in 2007, the International Dry Eye WorkShop (DEWS) made a huge discovery: dry eyes are not a disorder, but a disease.  

Today, Jennifer Aniston is a spokesperson for dry eye disease. Now that is mainstream! How the times have changed.

Why is this important? We finally recognized that chronic dry eyes will not improve without treatment. It is a disease of inflammation, like many autoimmune diseases.

In 2014, a Canadian dry eye disease treatment guide was published, which I was fortunate to be invited to participate in and co-author with some very esteemed colleagues.

Episodic vs. chronic dry eye

Dry eyes come in two flavours: episodic and chronic. Just like the aches and pains of the body in general, some are chronic, like arthritis, and some are short term, like muscle soreness the day after a workout. The treatment, of course, is very different. For eyes, this differentiation is particularly important and requires in-depth examination.  

The question for patients is, do you have dry eyes? Turns out, careful personal examination of eye comfort is a great place to start. Here’s a quick quiz.

We call this a subjective assessment. It’s actually pretty accurate to figure out if you have dry eyes. Unfortunately, it does not help us figure out how to treat dry eyes. Here is where things get complicated. There is no one magic pill or eye drop. (Eye drops will be a whole post on their own—stay tuned.)

Here is the take home message: If you think you may have dry eyes, please see your optometrist sooner rather than later. It is way easier to treat dry eyes earlier than later in the disease cycle. They will not get better on their own if the root cause is chronic in nature.

Eye drops from the pharmacy mask the symptoms, but do not cure the disease, and eventually, you’ll need more and more drops (especially if you’re a contact lens wearer), until they no longer work.  

Your body is speaking to you. Please listen. Make that appointment with your eye doctor today.