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How a CU Ophthalmologist Treats her Dry Eye

How a CU Ophthalmologist Treats Her Dry Eye

Tianjing Li, MD, MHS, PhD, first noticed she had symptoms of the disease in 2020, shortly after moving to Colorado and experiencing the dry climate.

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Written by Kara Mason on July 9, 2023

Colorado boasts more than 300 days of sunshine each year and a semi-arid climate that can make the summer heat a bit more bearable, but those conditions are also ripe for exacerbating dry eye, which affects up to 50 million people across the country.

Dry eye is a common condition that arises when a person’s tears fail to adequately lubricate their eyes sufficiently. Tears can be inadequate and unstable for many reasons. For instance, dry eye can manifest when tear production decreases or when the tear quality is poor.

University of Colorado Department of Ophthalmology associate professor Tianjing Li, MD, MHS, PhD, director of the Cochrane Eyes and Vision US Project, realized she is one of the millions that experiences dry eye after moving to the Denver metro region in early 2020. Symptoms of dry eye include eye dryness, discomfort, irritation, redness, burning or stinging sensation in the eyes, sensitivity to light, blurred vision, and eye fatigue.

Li’s diagnosis, which came from fellow CU ophthalmologist Darren Gregory, MD, opened the researcher’s eyes to the disease, prompting her to lead a systematic review and meta-analysis of incidence and prevalence of dry eye. She and a team of researchers from the CU School of Medicine found that prevalence of dry eye in the United States is around 8%, but there is a lot of uncertainty around this estimate.  

Li’s first-hand experience with the disease has led her to scientific investigation and some tips and perspective for others who also experience the irritation of dry eye.

Q&A Header

What actions have you taken in your everyday life to mitigate the effects of dry eye?

Initially, I sought professional help from Dr. Darren Gregory, who prescribed topical corticosteroids as a treatment.

We subsequently worked on a Cochrane systematic review to assess whether topical corticosteroids eye drops – a type of anti-inflammatory treatment – can improve dry eye symptoms or clinical signs. We identified 22 randomized clinical trials that had enrolled a total of 4,169 participants with dry eye. We found that when compared with lubricants, such as artificial tears, corticosteroids eye drops were probably effective in improving patient-reported symptoms and clinical tests, such as corneal staining. However, corticosteroids eye drops may result in little to no difference in tear quality or quantity.

What has been the most effective treatment for you?

Considering the semi-arid climate of Colorado, I have explored various treatments to find effective solution for my dry eye condition. I have been consistently using preservative-free artificial tears.

I also liked the 5% lifitegrast (Xiidra) eye drops, but it is very expensive, and many insurances don’t cover it. Recently, I decided to try punctal plugs, a tiny device that’s inserted into the tear duct to prevent tears from draining from the eye and help keep the eye moist. They have shown to provide relief to my symptoms.

Are you more cognizant of the environment, climate, and other triggers now that you’ve been diagnosed?

I take extra precautions in specific environmental conditions. For instance, during windy days, I am mindful to avoid products or situations that may exacerbate my symptoms. I would also avoid staying to close to vents or fans. I make a conscious effort to give my eyes regular breaks while using a computer or any other digital device. By being proactive in this manner, I aim to minimize any additional discomfort or irritation caused by external factors.

Dry eye might be easy for some to write off, especially if you live in a drier climate. What should people be aware of when considering treatment beyond over-the-counter drops? 

The climate in Colorado indeed poses unique challenges when it comes to managing dry eye. The lack of humidity in the air can exacerbate the condition, making it even more crucial to find suitable treatments. You should seek treatment for dry eye if you are experiencing persistent or bothersome symptoms that impact your daily activities. It is important to note that the effectiveness of treatments can vary depending on individual circumstances, and what works for one person may not work for another. Therefore, it is advisable to consult with a healthcare professional to determine the most suitable treatment options based on your specific condition and environment.

Topics: Awareness, Dry Eye

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Tianjing Li, MD, MHS, PhD