My Invisible Eye Condition
I am typing blog this with my eyes closed, because I suffer from an eye condition that hit me out of nowhere and pretty much derailed my life.
About a year ago, I started having some issues with dry eyes when I wore my contact lenses. I’ve been wearing contacts since I was thirteen, and usually wore them for about 14 hours a day. I blamed indoor heating, and started cutting down on my wear time.
By January of 2020, I couldn’t wear contacts anymore at all. When I tried, it felt like a foreign body was in my eye, and I had to remove them immediately.
I saw my optometrist, who suggested switching to daily contact lenses, and beginning an eyelid routine which included applying a warm compress daily. He also started me on Omega 3 supplements. But by the time my new daily contacts arrived, I couldn’t stand to put them in my eyes at all.
As the weeks went on, my eyes only got worse. It was in March when I realized that I was had a serious problem, so my optometrist recommended seeing a dry eye specialist. By the time I figured out who to see, we were in full lockdown due to COVID.
The dryness, grittiness and discomfort continued to worsen, even while I was religiously took supplements, and used warm compresses.
In June, I was finally able to see an optometrist who specializes in dry eye. By this time, I was using artificial tears all throughout the day, had a foreign body sensation in my eyes all the time and was pretty miserable.
I was diagnosed with ocular rosacea, and severe meibomian gland dysfunction, which had led to evaporative dry eye disease. Rosacea in my eyelids (who knew that was a thing!?) had caused the glands in my eyelids to become inflamed, and stop producing the oily layer of my tear film. Therefore, my aqueous layer of tears was evaporating too quickly. Optometrists use a metric called “tear breakup time” to quantify how long moisture remains on the eye. Anything under 10 seconds is problematic, and my tear breakup time was between 0s and 1s.
Throughout the summer, I had in-office procedures called Lipiflow and Blephex, plus 3 rounds of intense pulsed light therapy. I started seeing an ophthalmologist in August, and to date, I’ve also tried 3 types of steroids, 2 types of antibiotics and two anti-inflammatory drops, as well as autologous serum eye drops, made from my own blood.
I’ve had my dysfunctional glands manually expressed five times, which gives me some relief, but the inflammation usually returns, and the glands stop working again. The rosacea makes my eyes feel hot, painful and inflamed.
On bad days, I’m stuck in bed with a cold compress on my eyes, listening to podcasts. On good days, I can function somewhat but can’t drive long distances, or look at screens for more than a few minutes.
I haven’t shared my struggles with many people, because I feel guilty complaining about this invisible health issue, which is not life-threatening. “Dry eyes” sounds like a minor annoyance, and I had no idea it could be completely debilitating until it happened to me. There are so many people out there who are bravely fighting for their lives, or losing their vision, or their mobility, so I understand if my issue seems unworthy of discussion. And this global pandemic we’re in has derailed so many lives in so many ways.
But I feel the need to share now, because it’s hard to pretend that things are good or normal when I’m asked how I’m doing. I also struggle with replying to texts and emails, because it’s too painful to look at screens. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to share my struggle, in case anyone out there has been through it and has any insight. And to those of you struggling with your own health issues, invisible or not, I feel you and I am here with you, sending strength and love!
Every day I practice gratitude, and try to find the positive in my situation. Richard has been so supportive, which makes me cry sometimes with gratitude (I can still cry, the tears just evaporate quickly!). This health struggle has forced me to take my health seriously, including my mental health. Stress is a known trigger for rosacea. There is also a suspected link between rosacea and gut health, so I have adopted an anti-inflammatory diet and take about 10 vitamins and supplements, under the care of a naturopath.
This has definitely tested my vanity (goodbye makeup, hello thick glasses!), and also my inner strength. I try to stay optimistic and imagine my life after healing. I promise myself to never take my health for granted again, and to always prioritize the multitude of lessons I’ve learned over the past months. I pray for the day when I can write about how I’ve healed, and share what I’ve learned. I have big plans, but these have been some dark days, and I’m still waiting for the dawn to break through.