by Kali Schweitzer, PharmD candidate 2018
University of Arizona College of Pharmacy
For many people, dry eyes may only be a minor inconvenience. But for those who experience chronic dry eye, it can be a major problem, causing extreme discomfort. Left untreated, dry eye can have long term effects on your vision as well as your quality of life.
What causes dry eyes?
Dry eye occurs when you do not produce enough tears or if you are not producing quality tears. As a result, there is not enough lubrication for the eye, leading to the gritty, burning, and irritated feeling that is most often associated with this condition. There are a variety of things that may cause dry eye, including:
- Dry climate
- Exposure to smoke
- Certain medications and medical conditions.
For some, dry eye may be unavoidable, which is when finding an effective treatment that is not too costly becomes very important. In fact, one study found that the average direct cost for a patient seeking medical care for dry eye was $738 per year, and the cost to society per patient per year was over $11,000. So, the question is, what are your options if you are one of the millions of people in the United States who suffer from this condition?
Over-the-counter treatment for dry eyes
The key to managing dry eye symptoms and avoiding spending a fortune on prescriptions is to take advantage of the various over-the-counter options available.
The most popular over-the-counter treatment for dry eye is artificial tears, which help to lubricate the eye when you do not have enough tears of your own. There are many different varieties of artificial tears in the pharmacy aisle, and the most important distinction between them is that some are preservative-free while others are not. The preservative-free options tend to be more costly, but they are better for those who have more chronic symptoms because they are less likely to irritate the eyes following frequent use.
Another option that is available without a prescription is an omega-3 fatty acid supplement, which helps to increase tear production. Depending on what your doctor determines to be the cause of your dry eyes, they may have other recommendations for you that do not require a prescription for dry eyes.
Home treatment for dry eyes
In addition to over-the-counter medications, there are a number of other things you can try to prevent and/or reduce the symptoms of dry eyes. Some suggestions include blinking regularly, wearing sunglasses outside to protect your eyes, and drinking more water. If eyelid inflammation contributes to your dry eye symptoms, you may consider gently washing your eyelids, which can be done using a mild soap. Applying a warm compress over your eyes may also provide relief.
When do you need a prescription for dry eyes?
If prescription treatment does become a necessity, your doctor will discuss the different options with you. The ones most commonly used are Restasis (cyclosporine), which reduces inflammation, and Xiidra (lifitegrast), which helps you make more, quality tears. Another option is Lacrisert (hydroxypropyl cellulose), which is inserted between the eyeball and lower eyelid and slowly dissolves to release a lubricating substance. For now, these are only available as brand name medications, therefore price may be a barrier depending on your insurance coverage.
Finding the right dry eye treatment
Whether you seldom experience dry eyes or if you have constant symptoms, finding the right treatment is crucial. Dry eye can be irritating, costly, and even life-altering if not controlled. By working with your doctor, your pharmacist, your insurance company, and even prescription savings companies like ScriptSave, you will be in a better position to control your symptoms and save some money in the process.
- Yu J, Asche C, Fairchild C. The Economic Burden of Dry Eye Disease in the United States: A Decision Tree Analysis. 2011 April. 30(4):379-387.