You have a lot of options when it comes to treating your dry eye symptoms, but that doesn't mean they'll all work for you. And if something isn't working, there's no reason to stick it out. That said, it's not always easy to know when to throw in the (probably very dry) towel: Sometimes figuring out whether or not a particular treatment option is actually helping takes a while—and other times you know right away that it's simply not worth putting up with.
As SELF explained previously, those treatment options include lifestyle changes as well as over-the-counter artificial tear drops, gels, and ointments plus prescription medications, eye inserts, devices, and surgeries. If you've been trying to treat your dry eye symptoms with one or more of these methods without much luck, here are a few reasons to check in with your doctor about switching to something else.
1. You've been using it consistently and you're still not seeing any improvement.
It's just an unfortunate fact that some dry eye treatments take a while to really produce noticeable improvements, Lora Glass, M.D., assistant professor of ophthalmology and director of Medical Student Education in ophthalmology at Columbia University Medical Center, tells SELF.
"Some people do have immediate symptom relief [with over-the-counter options]," she says. "But I think for many people who have more chronic or daily dry eye, you need to give the regimen a few days or weeks to work." And, if you're talking about prescription drops, those can take weeks or months before they start working, she says. So, the first step is to give your regimen the time it needs to do its job. If you've done that and you're still not feeling better, talk to your doctor.
In some cases, though, symptoms are really severe and "you don't have months to figure it out," Dr. Glass says. That's when your doctor might actually start you at a high dose of prescription medication to ensure that you'll see some kind of benefit, and then taper off the dose to a lower level once your symptoms are more under control.
2. Your symptoms are actually getting worse.
If you notice that your eyes actually feel more itchy and inflamed after using your treatment, that's a sign that you could be allergic to something in it, Dr. Glass says. Specifically, some people can be sensitive to the preservatives in their medication, which may be present in over-the-counter or prescription medications. So, if you do have an allergy, your doctor can point you in the direction of preservative-free treatment options.
Keep in mind though, that, in most allergy cases, patients don't just feel like they're not getting better—they feel like their symptoms are getting worse.
3. Your treatment is causing side effects that are extremely unpleasant.
Even if you're not allergic to your treatment, it might still cause side effects that make you question whether or not it's worth the trouble. In particular, Dr. Glass says that some patients find that certain eye medications cause a temporary (but painful) stinging or burning sensation.
But, she explains, the reaction is totally individualized, meaning that different people react differently to each medication. So if you have a reaction to one treatment, that doesn't mean you'll react the same way to all of them.
And, sometimes, a little burning is just inevitable. "Sometimes it's because the cornea is so dry that anything other than your own tears would be uncomfortable," Dr. Glass says. In those cases, the burning may subside after you stick with the treatment for a while and your cornea is less dry. If it doesn't, it's probably time to try something else.
4. Your treatment only works in certain climates or on certain days.
It's not uncommon for people to get their dry eye symptoms under control—and then go on vacation. Or move. Or, you know, the seasons change.
The truth is that different temperatures, humidity levels, and even activities can affect your eyes differently, meaning that you might need to adjust your treatment plan based on where you are or what you're doing, Dr. Glass says. If you're sitting and looking at the computer all day at work (as opposed to say, wandering around a museum on your day off), you're going to have different dry eye needs on those days, she explains.
If you find that your current treatment regimen only works for you some of the time, it's worth it to talk to your doctor about what else you can do to adjust day-to-day.
5. The side effects last for a long time after using your treatment.
All medications come with a risk for side effects, and some of them are more uncomfortable than others. Dry eye ointments are notorious for causing blurriness, Dr. Glass says, which may be pretty annoying depending on how long it lasts. For some people, the effect lasts a minute or two, for others it's an hour, and for others it's all day.
Obviously you don't want to put your ointment in assuming any blurriness will be gone by the time you finish breakfast only to find yourself still dealing with it at lunchtime. So, Dr. Glass recommends trying the ointment out at night when you don't need to go anywhere but bed. But if you wake up and your vision is still blurry, that's a sign that it might not be the best option for you.
Although it might be discouraging to have to admit that your chosen treatment isn't working as well as you'd like it to, with some patience and determination, you and your doctor can find something that actually helps.