If left untreated, thedry eye disease can cause scarring of the cornea, the conjunctiva or both, which can, in the long-term, lead to significant pain and discomfort.

Get educated

Yet, despite the risks, optometrists are still noticing a lack of general awareness around dry eye. “As optometrists, we see a lot of people saying that they need an updated prescription for their glasses because their vision is blurry, when, in fact, the prescription is correct: their vision is blurry because the tear layer is not in tact, and that’s critical for having clear vision,” explains Dr. Neumann, an Optometrist who sits on the National Board of Optometric Services Inc.

Make an appointment

If you do experience dry eye symptoms, don’t hesitate or wait for them to go away, make an appointment with your optometrist for a professional diagnosis and adequate medical care. “It’s a disease that progresses,” says Dr, Neumann. “We now know that if you don’t go and get your eyes examined, the symptoms are not going away, they’re getting worse.”

“It’s a disease that progresses. We now know that if you don’t go and get your eyes examined, the symptoms are not going away, they’re getting worse.”

The classification of dry eye as a disease has changed the way that optometrists are able treat the condition. Previous to 2007, when the classification was changed, patients were prescribed treatments that masked the symptoms but didn’t treat the root causes. Since the reclassification there has been sustained effort to develop effective treatments and, as a result, optometrists are now in a position to prescribe medications that target the underlying causes of dry eye disease.

A focused approach

Optometrists in Canada are also showing more clinical focus to dry eye and many are making the condition a significant part of their practice, moving into more of a medical model, rather than just treating the symptoms or prescribing special lenses and glasses. Screening, diagnosis and management of the condition has developed significantly over the past decade, explains Dr. Neumann. “The screening process involves a lot of questions because this a symptomatic disease: the doctors job is to listen,” he says.

In moderate to moderate-severe cases of dry eye disease an optometrist may prescribe a short course of steroids, anti-inflammatories, or look more closely at the eyelids for any infection, but, says Dr. Neumann, timing is everything: if you wait until your disease is moderate to severe, your treatment protocols are going to be much different than if the disease is caught in its early stages.

“It’s the optometrist’s job to tell people to book an appointment, because if you have symptoms we can do something about it,” Dr Neumann says. “Time is the key factor. The longer you wait, the worse it’s going to get and the more complicated the treatment you need will be.”