Many patients suffer from dry eye, and eye care professionals have many tools at their disposal to help with symptoms. For many patients, over-the-counter lubricating drops such as Blink or Systane can be helpful. It is important to avoid redness relieving drops, as these tend to cause more problems over time.
When over-the-counter drops are not sufficient, typically, the next step is something like Restasis or Xiidra. These prescription drops work by decreasing inflammation and helping your body produce more healthy tears.
My personal favorite method of managing dry eye, specifically for patients who do not produce enough tears, is called punctal plugs. The puncta are a set of small drainage channels on the inner corner of your eyelids; there is one on the top lid and one on the bottom. It’s commonly called the “tear duct.”
With the use of punctal plugs, we can block one of these drainage channels and help the eye hold onto more of the tears that you are producing. There are both temporary and “permanent” plugs. Typically, we like to try the temporary plugs first to ensure that the patient feels relief from the procedure. The temporary plugs dissolve on their own within six months, whereas the permanent plugs are made of medical-grade silicone. Permanent plugs can last several years without needing to be replaced.
Getting punctal plugs inserted is a painless in-office procedure with no downtime. You will feel the doctor manipulating your lids to determine which size plug will fit best, and the doctor will then insert the punctal plug gently into your tear duct in your lids. You cannot see the plug after it has been inserted. Most patients feel relief within the first few weeks of the procedure.
Combining punctal plugs with artificial tears or medicated drops can be a very effective treatment for long-term dry eye sufferers. However, not all patients are good candidates for punctal plugs. It depends on why your eyes are dry. If they are dry due to insufficient tears, punctal plugs are a fantastic option. If they are dry for other reasons such as blepharitis or meibomian gland dysfunction, punctal plugs may not be as helpful. The best way to know is to get a comprehensive eye exam, let your doctor know what you are doing for your dry eyes, and ask what other options you are a candidate for. The doctors at Eye Specialists of Mid-Florida can help you with your dry eye problem, to learn more visit their website at EYESFL.COM or call 800-282-3937 to schedule an appointment.
Dr. Erica Benson is an optometrist who practices at the Haines City location for Eye Specialists of Mid-Florida. Dr. Benson specializes in specialty contact lenses such as scleral lenses and lenses for patients who have degenerative corneal conditions.